In the light of new figures showing exploitation in the shipping industry is widespread, the maritime trade union Nautilus International has called on the UK government to address the issue.
The union has again warned of the plight of seafarers working on foreign-flagged ships in British waters, who are receiving minimal or no pay and “suffering atrocious conditions” following the publication of a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) showing there are as many as 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, with some 300 current policing operations.
Nautilus recently highlighted the deplorable conditions seafarers suffered onboard a Turkish ship detained in the UK port of Runcorn. The crew, who were being paid wages as low as USD 0.85 an hour, had to endure a cockroach infestation, had no fresh food and were found to be owed almost USD 74,000 in back pay following checks by Nautilus/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy.
As a result, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the UK Border Force detained the vessel for a number of health and safety violations directly related to the substandard conditions onboard. After the expiration of the crew’s leave of stay, they had effectively become illegal workers with no protections and faced deportation. The combined efforts of the Nautilus/ITF inspector, the MCA and the UK Border Force finally resulted in payment of owed wages and the repatriation of the seafarers to their homes following lengthy prevarication by the vessel’s operator, Voda Shipping of Turkey, according to Nautilus.
“We’re calling on the government to affirm its commitments in tackling modern slavery in the shipping industry. There is an “out of sight and out of mind” attitude towards conditions in some parts of the industry where seafarers are being exploited, but it won’t come as a surprise to those working in the industry that these practices are happening,” Mark Dickinson, Nautilus general secretary, said.
Despite the Modern Slavery Act, which came into law in 2015, and international legislation, “we’re finding that some shipowners are continuing to profiteer at the expense of crew,” Dickinson added.