NGO Human Rights at Sea advocates for Australian shore-based seafarer welfare 

The NGO Human Rights at Sea on February 24 reiterated that Australia should amend the relevant legislation accordingly to secure long-term sustainable funding to support shore-based seafarer welfare (SBSW) services throughout the country.

According to a Counsel’s advisory opinion issued by Human Rights at Sea, there is no evidence Australia is yet in breach of its SBSW commitments. However, there is evidence that the current system is not meeting seafarers’ needs. If left unchecked, these shortcomings may result in a breach of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC).

Therefore, Human Rights at Sea suggested a modest amendment to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990 (Cth) requiring the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to ensure that SBSW is sufficiently funded.

The proposed amendment would state the purpose of Australia’s existing maritime levies includes the following: “ensuring that shore-based seafarer welfare is sufficiently funded to ensure compliance with Australia’s obligations under the MLC”.

An alternative approach may involve amending the AMSA Act to include a new section, which would specify that AMSA may use the money raised from the existing Maritime Navigation Levy or Regulatory Functions Levy to fund SBSW.

“In a supporting role to our welfare colleagues, Human Rights at Sea is aiming to remove the uncertainty of funding. We want to see the onus on individual coastal states to share a small percentage of their maritime levy income to help sustain long-term seafarers and fishers support facilities in ports.” Human Rights at Sea’s Head of Operations, Martyn Illingworth said.

“For Australia, and especially in an election year, this campaign represents an incredibly effective way to show support to an absolutely vital sector of the Australian economy. We know that from our work in New Zealand, the impact of the small legislative change we are proposing will be significant. As we roll out this initiative with other states, the true winners will be seafarers, fishers, and their families.

“Each day that passes is a day where we could we doing more to ensure the welfare and rights of the people who operate at sea. We encourage all stakeholders to consider the legislative changes Counsel has proposed, and we strongly encourage political parties to support our efforts.”

For some time, Human Rights at Sea has been concerned about the lack of adequate and long-term sustainable funding to support SBSW facilities and services in a number of jurisdictions, and is working with various stakeholders to develop a sustainable model for SBSW and to achieve necessary legislative reform.

The NGO’s campaign aims to identify potential shortfalls in coastal states’ maritime legislation which may hinder the provision of support to seafarers’ welfare facilities. It encourages states to amend legislation accordingly to secure sustainable funding for these vital services.

As a signatory to the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), Australia has an obligation to promote the continuous development of port welfare facilities and services, ensuring seafarers can access adequate welfare support, which should be sustainable.

However, the Counsel’s advisory opinion has noted the nation’s SBSW facilities are not currently receiving sustainable funding. These facilities, operated by welfare organizations, must rely on charitable donations to operate. Therefore, Human Rights at Sea is pursuing a legislative amendment to ensure that Australia doesn’t fall short of its obligations to better support seafarers and their families.

Success of New Zealand campaign

The focus on Australia follows the success of a campaign led by the New Zealand Seafarers’ Welfare Board in 2020 and 2021, supported by Human Rights at Sea. The campaign resulted in a seminal amendment to New Zealand’s Maritime Transport Act 1994 and will affect up to 160,000 seafarers visiting annually.

The addition of one critical line of text into the 1994 Act enshrined “the facilitation of, or support for, seafarer welfare services” across New Zealand ports through a dedicated maritime levy. The simplicity and impact of the amendment has set an international precedent.

The current Australian campaign has identified a legislative route for the federal government to realign its support for seafarers with the nation’s MLC obligations. Counsel has traced this initial responsibility to the AMSA.

AMSA looks to meet these obligations through the Australian Seafarers’ Welfare Council (ASWC). However, there appears no statute or regulation assigning this explicit responsibility to AMSA – or any other body – for the support of SBSW. 

The New Zealand and Australia campaigns are part of Human Rights at Sea’s international Maritime Levy Campaign.   Human Rights at Sea receives no financial benefit from its Maritime Levy Campaign. All funds achieved through legislative change will go to supporting other organizations’ running costs and sustainability.

Image credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

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