The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has issued a stark warning, contained within a new report, that if temporary short cuts adopted in the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic continue or become permanent, then there will be a rise in shipping accidents and environmental disasters.
Report co-author and chair of the Maritime Safety Committee, Odd Rune Malterud, says the report shows an unsustainable trend by industry players, including flag states, to deprioritize ship safety out of expedience rather than necessity.
“Some industry players are pushing for exemptions from, or the outright suspension of, important international rules. These rules were introduced to protect seafarers’ safety, lives, and the marine environment over many decades. They are the result of learning from incidents in the past: be it an accident; a drowning; a spill; a grounding; or a death.
“Take remote inspections – we don’t oppose their use for technical inspections when they are safer than the alternative, for example in the use of drone technology which can replace risky manned inspections of the ship’s structures and tanks. But it is completely unacceptable to see countries like Norway allowing remote inspections where crew themselves are expected to independently and objectively report on their own safety and security on top of their watch keeping duties.
“Given the growing power imbalance caused by the crew change crisis, crew are under enormous pressure to appease their employers, who are often a seafarer’s only way off a ship after months at sea. What is more – most employers will expect crew to pick up these remote inspection tasks on top of their already overburdened workload, often when a seafarer is supposed to be keeping watch for everyone’s safety.”
Malterud said the report was about putting a line in the sand over the industry’s rapid backslide on safety and seafarers’ rights.
“Enough is enough. It is our obligation as seafarers’ representatives to raise the warning because what we are witnessing right now causes us extreme worry. We cannot in good conscience be complacent and allow seafarers’ safety and security to be put at risk. The shipping industry is now a ticking timebomb towards an environmental catastrophe.
“Pandemic or not: the public will not accept more deaths at sea and strewn ships spilling oil over precious coastal wildlife. That is the consequence of allowing this much risk in the industry.
“Governments know what could happen, and that’s why we have seen them refusing and detaining unsafe ships in their own ports. This is despite those same governments endorsing dangerous short cuts for ships to operate elsewhere. Well, if a ship is too risky for the harbors of Australia and Norway, it is too risky anywhere.”
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