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Seafaring: A Labor of Love
by The Maritime Executive
Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of the trade union Nautilus International, was awarded the prestigious Merchant Navy Medal for meritorious service last year in recognition of his work on seafarer employment, training and welfare. We speak to him here about support for seafarers:

Is it fair to say pay is aligned with the role of being a seafarer?

Being a seafarer is a unique profession, of which there are few parallels, and often it is a labor of love. Pay is just another area in which there is often a discrepancy with onshore roles, despite the challenging and critical nature of the job. 

Regulations allow seafarers to work over 90 hours a week on contracts that stipulate that they could be away from home for up to a year at a time. Despite these sacrifices, unfortunately, many seafarers are still not paid a fair days wage for a fair days work. Flag states continue to allow employers to import cheap labor to undercut their own nationals and, in recent years, unfavorable market conditions have placed further downward pressure on wages in shipping. This makes pay negotiations very difficult.

In November, I led the seafarers’ delegation on behalf of the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) at talks within the ILO Joint Maritime Commission to call for a raise in the global minimum wage which applies to seafarers (specifically for ABs). Around 1,650,000 seafarers crew the world’s ships, with many of these working very long hours, in dangerous conditions. And for some, this work is in return for a pittance.

Although not many European seafarers will actually be paid the ILO minimum, it is the floor upon which many other pay bargaining agreements are built. Therefore, it is vital that it rises in line with the general rise in the cost of living and in real terms too.

I am pleased that we managed to secure an increase in the minimum - it will rise to $641 per month over the next two years. However, shipowners need to remember that wage agreements like this outline the minimum amount of pay seafarers should receive – not the maximum. When you consider what seafarers endure at work and the efficiencies that the Merchant Navy has achieved in recent decades, as well as the importance of shipping to the global community, it is clear that this increase is justified.

How would you describe the working conditions of seafarers?
Since the launch of our “Jobs, Skills and the Future” campaign in 2015, we’ve been lobbying the government and industry to secure improved working conditions for our members which has resulted in some real improvements for those working in maritime. Despite this, there’s still a lot of work to be done to bring the conditions faced by seafarers, and others in the maritime and shipping industry, in line with workers ashore.

Physical fatigue and mental health not only impacts on individuals but also on the vessel and wider economy. It’s a very serious issue which must be addressed, and measures taken for the issue to be alleviated. At Nautilus International we have a 24/7 helpline, a worldwide network of lawyers and are part of the Nautilus Federation – a family of global maritime trade unions. This ensures that our members can always find the support they need, when they need it, wherever they are in the world. 

We are also developing a new mobile app which will give members instant access to advice and guidance following an incident.

I also find it shocking that in this day and age, access to the internet at sea is not viewed as a basic requirement. At home we take this for granted, and being able to contact anyone in the world at the touch of a button with devices in our pockets is fantastic. But why shouldn’t seafarers also be able to do this when they’re working away for months on end? We’re working hard to improve this situation, allowing seafarers to feel less isolated when working at sea. 

What more can the industry do to support their well-being?

Despite seafarers bringing us 95 percent of everything we consume as a nation, sadly there are still a number of areas of improvement to ensure professionals in the industry have the opportunity to work, progress in their careers and feel protected, safe and happy in their jobs. 

A simple bullet list of easy-to-implement improvements would be: 

•  Arranging working patterns so that they are not detrimental to physical and mental health.
•  Improving standards of accommodation. 
•  Providing adequate leisure and exercise facilities.
•  Providing a nutritious diet.
•  Reducing stress by providing adequate resources
•  Removing the culture of blame and finger pointing.
•  Reduce administrative burden and unnecessary interference often imposed from ashore. 

Are IMO/ILO Guidelines of Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident fully adhered to in practical terms?

No, Nautilus’ recent survey on criminalization showed that 87 percent of seafarers still fear being criminalized whilst carrying out their work. The fair treatment of seafarers is one of our biggest priorities at the moment as we are continuing to see people disinclined to embark on a career at sea due to the danger of criminalization. 

The criminalization of the maritime profession has a damaging impact on not only the individuals who can suffer unfair treatment, but also on the recruitment and retention of skilled and experienced personnel. Sadly, seafarers remain at high risk of being treated as scapegoats after accidents at sea, and through our campaign, we hope to highlight the issue at the highest levels of government and within the industry, in addition to providing practical support to ensure that members’ rights are protected.

Is technology a threat or complement to seafarers' jobs?

It is absolutely vital that people are not forgotten in the scramble to bring smart ships onto the seas. The debate so far has concentrated too much on technological and economic factors. Properly introduced, automation and digital technologies could transform shipping in a positive way – making it more rewarding, healthier and safer and of course more efficient – but managed poorly, they could undermine safety and erode the essential base of maritime skills, knowledge and expertise. This is no knee-jerk opposition to automation, but rather a genuine desire to see it used in a way that improves the safety and efficiency of the shipping industry and the working lives of all within it.

Is gender diversity at sea a reality?

I think the industry understands that there is a problem in attracting women into considering careers in the maritime industry. Accepting this is the first step, but we must work together to address this. At Nautilus, we are keen to work to support female maritime professionals and encourage more women into the profession.

Through Maritime UK, we recently teamed up with almost 40 leading UK shipowners and maritime industry groups to launch a new initiative to increase the number of women in shipping, signing a pledge to improve fairness, equality and inclusion in the sector.

Women currently account for just three percent of the seafaring workforce, and we need to increase this. Given that many other similarly traditionally male-dominated industries have managed to turn this around, I see no reason why the maritime industry can’t as well. 

What does your role entail?

Nautilus International is a trade union for some 22,000 maritime professionals in the U.K., and our history of supporting seafarers can be traced back more than 160 years. We work trans-nationally across the U.K., the Netherlands and Switzerland. Providing a voice for members in the maritime industry, as well as being a traditional trade union working on behalf of our members, we are a campaigning organization raising awareness of the issues faced by all maritime and shipping professionals working at sea and ashore. 

I’ve been general secretary of the Union for nine years now, since the new union forged when Nautilus UK (NUMAST) and Nautilus Netherlands (FWZ) merged in 2009. I oversee the Union’s mission to be an independent, influential, global trade union and professional organization, committed to delivering high quality, cost effective services to members and welfare to seafarers and their dependants in need. 

This is a wide remit but includes lobbying the government and industry alike and working within the IMO, ILO and EU to improve the working lives of maritime and shipping professionals. Amongst other successes, our work over the past year has included securing improvements in pay and conditions for seafarers, influencing discussions at the highest level including the IMO and governments on issues that affect seafarers including, fatigue, maritime safety and connectivity for seafarers at sea. We also negotiate collective bargaining agreements to protect and enhance the working conditions of thousands of maritime and shipping professionals.  

What does the Merchant Naval Medal award mean to you?

It is a great honor to receive the medal, and I am humbled by the support I’ve received from both my colleagues and peers across the industry. Whilst I’m delighted to be recognized alongside many esteemed recipients past and present, I want to show my appreciation for the support I’ve received from those I work with at Nautilus, our members and my family, who have all made significant contributions that made the award possible – without that support my mission is impossible.


Dickinson has spent over 40 years in the maritime industry, which began when he joined the British Merchant Navy as a Navigating Cadet in 1978 at the age of 16. In 1983, having secured his Officer of the Watch Certificate he moved ashore to study and gained a Bachelor of Science with honors in Maritime Studies from the University of Wales. In 1992, he gained a master's degree with distinction in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics.

Dickinson joined Nautilus International in 2000 (then known as NUMAST) as an executive officer. He previously worked for the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in two spells from 1987 to 1991 and 1992 to 2000, from 1995 he was the ITF's Assistant General Secretary with responsibility for maritime activities. During his time at both the ITF and Nautilus International, he was heavily involved in the development of the Maritime Labour Convention.

Analytical Fuel Testing Needed to Tackle Bad Bunkers
by The Maritime Executive
Saturday, January 19, 2019

With the implementation of the IMO’s 2020 global sulfur limit now less than a year away, the number and variety of industry players contributing to the debate surrounding the new regulation continues to increase, as does the speed at which narratives around the topic change. Low sulfur fuels, which the majority of vessels will use to comply, are rightly central to industry discussion. In particular, talk of bunker blending, and risks associated with the practice in a post-2020 era, are prevalent.  

Today there are around 10 to 15 blended fuels in the shipping market which are used to meet 0.1 percent Emission Control Area (ECA) targets. Come 2020, the number and diversity of bunker fuels will grow to previously unprecedented levels. According to a study by CE Delft, commissioned by the IMO, blended fuel will constitute 233 million tonnes of demand, with compliant fuels chiefly created by blending heavy fuel oil with distillates to create low sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) blends. By necessity, there will be an increase in blending of smaller stems from more fragmented sources, and new fuel suppliers with lesser or no prior experience in the shipping industry will enter the market to meet demand. 

Furthermore, when it comes to sources of fuel, it is likely that the types of crude oil hitting the market will alter to a sweeter, low sulphur raw product that would make it easier to formulate blends of compliant 0.5 percent marine fuels. In keeping with this prediction, there is already increased demand for light U.S. crude in anticipation of 2020. 

While it is impossible to predict with absolute certainty how increased fuel blending will impact vessel operations in future, we expect that commonplace and diverse use of the practice will heighten the risk of fuel being “off spec” and not complying with ISO 8217 standards, or other issues not specifically covered within pre-2020 fuel standards, including compatibility or the fuel being contaminated. In addition, present testing regarding stability may no longer provide adequate indication and safeguards for post 2020 fuels.

Based on previous trends in bunker quality disputes claims, we can infer that contamination caused by non-petroleum products such as bio-derived waste, slops and chemicals may persist in the future. As the bunker ‘pool’ diversifies in terms of products, regional sourcing and blends, the trend is likely to become more prevalent and problematic for shipowners and operators (as well as other stakeholders such as charterers, bunker suppliers, insurers, and financiers). 

These problems could vary in scale, from low impact to hugely transformative to operations. Examples of the latter could include engine stoppages and failures; which poses an obvious navigational risk to safety of the vessel and crew, and could lead to a significant loss of earnings through unplanned downtime, repair costs, having to write off expensive bunker fuel, as well as litigation costs in seeking to recover such losses; and increased issues during fuel switching for vessels transitioning in and out of ECA areas. 

With significant cost and safety implications at stake, the industry recognizes the urgent need to put plans in place that mitigate against the potential impact of new fuels. Most industry commentators, including BIMCO, believe the risk of fuel contamination will increase in future and that fuel testing laboratories can play a key role in mitigating the impact. Indeed, BIMCO’s Deputy Secretary General Lars Robert Pedersen recently advised that “doing a full analysis and screenings for known contaminates of the product is a way to try and prevent operational problems from contaminated fuel.” All this means the workload of the industry’s fuel testing laboratories is likely to increase. 

Laboratories, including those operated by class societies, are well versed in delivering standard fuel tests against ISO 8217 standards, but, as 2020 approaches, stakeholders should consider a more analytical approach to fuel testing, which sees a differentiation between commoditized, standard testing, and more focus on the possibilities of complex fuel contamination, compatibility and instability issues. 

For example, over and above ISO 8217 testing, most fuel laboratories can be contracted to do certain tests such as Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). However, when widespread problems arise, delays in testing at standard laboratories can be significant. This problem is more acute when the experts needed to interpret GC-MS results may be lacking or in short supply.  In addition, as such testing is not standardized, then there may be significant variations in the results obtained by different laboratories.

All this comes as little comfort to ship owners and charterers when they encounter an issue with their vessel’s fuel - while they await advanced fuel testing results, and are unable to make an informed decision on whether to consume, remove, or segregate the suspected problem bunkers.

At the onset of problems, all involved may benefit from partnering with the right independent experts early to help safeguard business continuity and manage risk. 

This includes partnering with laboratories, such as those operated by Exponent, which are geared up to solve the most complex fuel problems and are run by experts with the knowledge and experience necessary to analytically assess results and provide evidence to a forensic level. Working in tandem with laboratory scientists should be marine industry experts with the technical ability to provide practical on-site assistance and thorough incident investigation at the earliest possible opportunity. 

While the official 2020 deadline is a year away, ship owners have, from a practical perspective, far less time to prepare for the upcoming change. Indeed, the International Chamber of Shipping’s senior technical advisor Sunil Krishnakumar recently advised that owners should start preparing now and “be in a position to start contacting bunker suppliers to make sure fuel is available and ordering at least six months ahead.” 

Amid this intense period of preparation, debate continues across the industry regarding the optimum way to ensure low sulfur fuels are of an adequate standard. Some claim more transparency in the fuel supply chain is key while others believe further regulation is the answer. 

This latter point was voiced by Anna Ziou, Policy Director at the UK Chamber of Shipping, who recently highlighted that “Shipping is the only industry where the [fuel oil] supply chain is not properly regulated.” 

No matter which course the shipping industry takes to clamp down on marine fuel quality, instances of “bad bunkers,” and their operational impact, will inevitably continue (to a greater or lesser extent). When faced with an issue, Exponent believes that a combination of scientific and technical expertise provides the best route to identifying the cause of fuel issues, and implementing resolutions that not only address problems, but do so in the most efficient manner. 

Chris Dyson is a marine engineer and Director of Exponent’s London Office. 

EJF: Ghana Must Enshrine Transparency in Law
by The Maritime Executive
Saturday, January 19, 2019

Transparency must be improved to eradicate illegal fishing and prevent the collapse of Ghana’s fishing industry, says a new report. Transparency is the most effective means to tackle these issues and provides much-needed accountability in a sector facing unprecedented challenges, as fish stocks plunge to their lowest recorded levels.

The report, published by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Hen Mpoano under an E.U.-funded project, shows that the Ghanaian fishing industry suffers from a shocking lack of transparency. This allows illegal operators to disguise the identity, ownership and history of fishing vessels, avoiding detection and sanctions. As a result, illegal fishing is rife and vast over-capacity in the fishing fleet continues to decimate fish stocks.

Vessels have engaged in illegal and unreported fishing on a massive scale, targeting fish reserved for small-scale fishers and selling them to specially-adapted canoes out at sea – a hugely damaging practice known as “saiko.” A recent study by EJF and Hen Mpoano estimated that around 100,000 tons of fish were traded illegally through saiko in 2017, with an estimated landed value of $34-65 million. In 2017, industrial trawlers reported just 67,000 tons of official catches to the Fisheries Commission.

Despite Ghana’s laws clearly forbidding any foreign ownership or control of industrial trawl vessels flying its flag, Chinese companies operate extensively through Ghanaian “front” companies, a previous report by EJF revealed. Using opaque corporate structures, they import their vessels, register and obtain a license to fish. In 2015, 90 percent of industrial trawl vessels licensed in Ghana were built in China, and 95 percent were captained by Chinese nationals.

The lack of transparency in the fisheries sector can also foster corruption and significant loss of state revenue. According to the report, fines for illegal fishing are often negotiated – through opaque out-of-court settlements – to a fraction of the $1 million minimum set out in the law. Fishing license fees in Ghana are substantially lower than in other West African countries.

Improving transparency would play a crucial part in eradicating the illegal fishing that is driving the country’s fish stocks to extinction and impoverishing local communities, says the report. Many of the measures – such as publishing details of fishing licenses and their conditions – are cheap, simple, and can be implemented immediately. 

“Transparency in Ghana’s fishing industry is vital to thousands of people’s livelihoods, and the food security of the entire nation,” says EJF Executive Director Steve Trent. “It is a low-cost, highly effective means to tackle illegal fishing, improve accountability and support meaningful participation in decision-making.”

Incomes of small-scale fishers have dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last 10-15 years, and Ghana is now forced to import more than half of fish consumed. Director of Hen Mpoano Kofi Agbogah, says “Revenue reporting and audits have greatly increased revenue to government from our oil, gas and mining sectors. As our fisheries face unprecedented challenges, it is more than time for the sector to follow suit.”

Deltamarin to Oversee Regulation Compliance for Titanic II
by The Maritime Executive
Saturday, January 19, 2019

Blue Star Line has contracted Deltamarin to continue with the design of Titanic II. The company will oversee design and project management, including compliance with regulations including SOLAS 2020 and the Energy Efficiency Design Index.

The project, led by Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, will see Titanic II mimic the design of the original Titanic. Blue Star Line will create an authentic Titanic experience, providing passengers with a ship that has the same interiors and cabin layout as the original vessel, while integrating modern safety procedures, navigation methods and 21st century technology.

She will carry almost exactly the same number of people on board - 2,400 passengers and 900 crew. Her first voyage will start in Dubai and then take the same North Atlantic route from Southampton to New York as was planned for the original vessel. After that, she will sail other global routes.

“Millions have dreamt of sailing on her, seeing her in port and experiencing her unique majesty. Titanic ll will be the ship where those dreams come true,’’ Palmer said.

The vessel, being built in China, is due to sail in 2022, 110 years after the original Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in 1912.

Palmer’s company Blue Star Line has been working on the $700 million Titanic II project since 2012 and recently resumed construction of the replica after the project stalled due to financial disputes.

In December last year, Palmer announced the appointment of V.Ships Leisure as the official ship management services partner.

Two Hundred Med Migrants Dead So Far This Year
by The Maritime Executive
Saturday, January 19, 2019

Over 117 vulnerable migrants are believed to have perished in the winter waters of the Mediterranean Sea on Friday marking the second tragedy in just two days and bringing the total number of migrant deaths on the Mediterranean Sea to 200 through nearly three weeks of the new year.

News of the second shipwreck arrived with the rescue of three survivors who were interviewed by the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) staff Saturday on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The survivors said that after about 10 hours at sea the dinghy started to take on water and many of its passengers drowned.

The three men managed to stay afloat for several  hours before being spotted by an Italian Navy patrol plane some 50 miles off the Libyan coast. Subsequently, they were rescued by an Italian Navy helicopter and brought to Lampedusa. The survivors explained that among the people drowned were 10 women, one known to be pregnant, and two children, including a two-month-old toddler.

The information came less than 24 hours after news was confirmed of a shipwreck off the coast of Spain in which 53 African migrants are believed to have drowned. There was one surviving witness of that tragedy, which occurred the night of January 17.

These were not the only rescue operations carried out in these last few days in the Mediterranean Sea. The NGO ship Sea Watch rescued another 47 migrants, and two days ago 68 migrants were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and brought to Lampedusa. IOM Libya also reported on Saturday that at least two search and rescue missions carried out by Libya returned dozens of men, women and children to shore. 

With these latest shipwreck events, the death toll registered by IOM in January on the Mediterranean has now reached 200. IOM reports that in 2018, 2,297 people were dead or missing in the Mediterranean. In 2017, there were 3,139, and in 2016 there were 5,143.

According to the compilation of available data from national authorities and IOM offices, a total of 133,489 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe between January and November 2018. An estimated 81 percent of the overall population crossed the Mediterranean Sea (108,246).

Recent arrivals in Italy by sea have been characterized by a high proportion of children disembarking alone and being registered as unaccompanied by national authorities. Overall, the percentage of children arriving by sea has remained relatively stable, at above 11 percent since 2013. Despite the decrease in the absolute number of children arriving between 2016 and 2017, the share of those unaccompanied increased by 31 percent. Currently, over 90 percent of the unaccompanied children in Italy are boys aged 15 to 17.

IOM regularly conducts surveys to understand the profiles of unaccompanied children disembarking in Italy. 84 percent of the 754 surveyed in 2017 and 2018 reported to have traveled alone. At the time of their departure, 43 percent intended to reach Italy, 18 percent had Europe as a general destination in mind and 14 percent reported to be aiming to stay in Libya for work. Once in Italy, the majority reported to be willing to stay in the country (79 percent), and a few reported the intention to reach Germany (four percent), France (3.8 percent), the United Kingdom (3.6 percent).

Many children described long and difficult journeys: 32 percent of those interviewed spent more than a year in Libya, while 36 percent transited through four or more countries before arriving in Italy. The reported cost of the journey is high, usually including transportation and living expenses, bribes and ransoms. Most, 80 percent, reported exposure to exploitative practices (unpaid work, forced work, unlawful detention, arranged marriage), experienced physical violence (88 percent) and suffered from threats of sexual violence (30 percent).

Most children interviewed (63 percent of those traveling without their families) claimed to have completed basic (primary or lower-secondary) education, while 33 percent stated they had never attended school.

In line with existing international obligations in relation to the rights of the child, the IOM upholds the principle of the best interest of the child at all times, including the right to family reunification, and it supports relevant authorities to respect this principle by identifying sponsoring relatives through paperwork or DNA testing. The right to family life is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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