Are Bangladeshi Seafarers the Maritime Slaves of the 21st Century?

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Are Bangladeshi Seafarers the Maritime Slaves of the 21st Century?

by Abu Sayed Sajib (44E)

CASE 1

Tanker MT ASTERIS Nigeria 2015

In March 2015, four Bangladeshi Seafarers joined a Panama flagged Oil Tanker MT ASTERIS. Greek Ship Management company, Western Mediterranean Shipping, had an agreement with oil tanker MT ASTERIS owner M/s. Sea Crown Maritime. Local Bangladeshi manning agent was M/S Reliance Shipping.

The vessel was arrested in Lagos with its crews for smuggling of (cargo) crude oil. Five Filipinos and four Bangladeshi seafarers were locked up in a jail in Nigeria and were in trial in a Nigerian Federal court.

The Trial started on 18 June 2015. On 15 December 2015, the Nigerian court convicted the sailors for smuggling crude oil. A lawyer in that hearing did not even represent our sailors.

They were sentenced to five years in prison or pay a fine of 20 million Naira (approximately USD 100,000) each. The shipowner refused to pay the penalties. The owner abandoned them and also did not pay their salaries.

The relatives of the Bangladeshi mariners appeared in the JMAAA annual dinner in December of 2015 in Dhaka and presented the plight of the seafarers in the Nigerian jail. The news got circulated the world amongst the Bangladeshi mariners.

Bangladeshi Mariners were extremely concerned about the case and donated money, and the met all expenses within three months. The court assigned fines were paid, and the seafarers got released on 2nd May 2016. The generosity of the mariners was extraordinary.

JMAAA was involved with the release of the Bangladeshi mariners right from the beginning. All the actions started right from the announcements at the JMAAA annual dinner on 2nd January 2016.


One of the Bangladeshi mariners who suffered in the Nigerian jail speaking at JMAAA annual dinner on 2nd January 2017

Bangladeshi seafarers do not have to go through this kind of ordeals. The Department of Shipping must regulate the Manning agents and other organizations for the legal rights of the Bangladeshi seamen.

CASE 2

Diamond 8 arrested in the Philippines

Eleven Bangladeshi crew joined M.V. Diamond-8 at My Thoi port, Vietnam on 28th March 2018. It was a China-based company named “Circle Ocean International Shipping Co.,” Ltd. and their Bangladeshi Manning Agent was “AYAR SHIPPING SERVICE.”

Officials said the navy seized the cargo ship Diamond 8 off Olutanga town after the soldiers discovered the contraband. Two smaller boats “Yssa Maine” and “Yousra” which were hauling bags of rice managed to escape and were being tracked down by the navy.

On 12th April vessel reached Zamboanga, Philippine for discharging cargo. On the 14th evening, Philippine Navy boarded the ship and arrested the crew and vessel as they did not have any permission for discharging. As per several mail, we have received from the seafarers on board, We have come to know that Captain could not show the legal documents for discharging. There were no documents for discharging in any port of Philippine. This should be noted that Philippine does not allow any import of rice.

Since mid-2017, the Philippines banned rice import to protect local farmers. All those crew members are now living in the ship since no charges have been brought against them as of yet.
The Chinese flag merchant ship was carrying 27,180 bags or 1,359 tons of rice worth nearly Philippine Peso 68 million from Vietnam. The Navy challenged the vessel while it was trying to unload the goods offshore.

The Bangladeshi nationals were held as they failed to show valid documents, including passports, said officials of Bangladesh foreign ministry and shipping department.
Ever since the vessel’s arrest, Juldia Marine Academy Alumni Association got into the act of representing the Bangladeshi seafarers. JMAAA urged the Bangladesh embassy in the Philippines to help in nominating attorneys, so the Bangladeshi seafarers get adequate protection.

Mr. Ashraf Ibn Noor, the President of JMAAA, contacted all appropriate authorities including DG Shipping, Ministry of Shipping and the Bangladesh Embassy in the Philippines.

Eleven Bangladeshi along with 4 Chinese crews were released on 3 July 2018. Also, 51 Filippino nationals were also detained with the crew. They were charged with smuggling rice and was arrested by the Philippine Navy on 14th April 2018. The vessel was handed over to the Customs Authority in Zamboanga port, Philippines.

The vessel heaved her anchors on July 3rd and departed for Vietnam.

One thing is common to the above two cases is that; at the end of the day only seafarers are the victims.

Is it not easy to get a job/visa anywhere in the world or any Shipping company, if you are convicted on a criminal charge, or you are prohibited from entering a country when as a nation we already have certificate restrictions in numerous flags. It is compounded by visa restrictions.

A few Basic Questions comes to mind from the above are :

1. Did the crew join the ship as per the government shipping office articles ??
2. Did their salary been paid up to the home port. Did they receive their full payment at the end of each month as is normal?
3. Did the joining crews have any Valid SEA (Seafarer Employment Agreement) while joining ??
4. Did they pay any illegal service charge before joining a ship or after sign off ??
5. Did Manning agent check the insurance of the vessel before sending the crew ??
6. Did the manning Agent cover themselves with International Insurance??
7. Does the DG Shipping ensure such Insurance coverage to offset any unwarranted
situations as above ??

8. Do the MoS and DoS have any standard operating procedures to handle such
unwanted incidents/situations ??

Due to the huge number of unemployed seafarers in the job market, we have seen a large growth of manning agencies with registration from DoS. The worst outcome of such practices is the  Agencies who are charging seafarers for providing a job. This ‘give money for the job’ cycle is not limited to Bangladesh only. These agencies take advantage of the dire situation and extract as much as 5 lakh (Tk. 500,000.00) from each cadet for completing the sea time. Once an agency started this practice, it becomes an ongoing practice other agents. In not so distant past, identity documents were withheld with ‘debt bondage’. It is an illegal practice of some crewing agents and remains unchecked by the authorities.

In spite of the clear prohibition of the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006, there are significant cases where seafarers are forced to pay a significant amount of money to secure a position on board, only to find they don’t get paid the amount promised.

These Crews may have taken a loan to pay for the job, have a family to support and no wages to maintain repayments. The debts may be to the third parties, but the result is still the same. And most the Manning Agencies taking service charges are sending seafarers to the substandard ships with no guarantee of full payment of the signed contract. The job may or may not be there, as all crews are not “signed on” at the Bangladesh Shipping Office.

There are a lots of stories like the above two cases in our archives such as (Bangladeshi second engineer) abandonment in Bramco-1, Bangladeshi crew trapped in TOGO (Lome) and eventually passport expired.

The questions are:

Did our Department Of Shipping take up these cases seriously??
Was there any inquiry to the above 2 cases?
If so then what are the findings? It should be made public.
Have any instructions/guidance of any kind been issued to all the Manning agents by the Govt. Shipping Office to avoid recurrence of such incidents??
We need to identify our System Lapses, Root Causes and develop a System to handle such cases, which would keep on happening for reasons; may be beyond our control.

We all know the ‘Stop gap measure does not work more than once or twice.’
So, all stakeholders should be consulted, and a System needs to be developed for the benefit of the Seafarers. Our aim and objectives are to establish a System to avoid recurrence of such incidents.

 

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