US government uses seafarers as political pawns

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has serious concerns over the lack of understanding shown by many governments in relation to international shipping and the role played by seafarers.

A recent message from the US State Department to the maritime industry, stating that it will invoke anti-terrorism legislation to deny seafarers a US visa if they work on board a vessel carrying Iranian oil, is an example of how little governments understand seafarers’ reality.

The statement from the US comes after the tanker Grace 1, now named Adrian Darya, was released by Gibraltarian authorities after the country received assurances that the vessel would not violate EU sanctions.

Dave Heindel, ITF seafarers section chair, expressed his frustration at the statement, saying: “As a global union federation, we recognise that geopolitical issues and official sanctions are beyond our purview.

“However, it is also beyond the purview of a seafarer to expect him or her to have any influence over the destination of a vessel or its cargo.”

“Seafarers, whether they are ratings or officers, rarely know where the vessel is bound.

“Ordinarily a vessel is instructed by the ship management company to sail a certain course with further directions to be given later.

“If a vessel is directed to an Iranian port, it’s common that the captain will be the only one who knows the destination a day or two before.

“The crew, especially ratings and lower-ranking officers, will not know and have no possibility to refuse or disembark the vessel during the voyage.”

“In addition, seafarers usually have no idea who actually owns the vessel on which they are working, much less who owns the cargo.

“This is why the ITF has been campaigning since 1948 against the flags of convenience (FoC) system that dominates the shipping industry and allows vessel owners who should be held responsible to hide behind a veil of secrecy.

“It is unjust to blankly refuse visas to seafarers who may have been employed on board a vessel considered in breach of sanctions, and it does not hold the right people responsible.

“Governments, including the US, should rather direct their focus to the FoC system and change the rules that allow this system and its secretive ownership laws to flourish unimpeded.”

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