An international body that looks after the interests of seafarers has come out in their defence following the recent spate of grim casualties – blaming the Covid-19 pandemic rather than individuals who they believe are often the subject of unfair criminal charges.
“Covid is having devastating effects on individuals, who are now at risk of being caught in a perfect storm of exhaustion from extended employment agreements, increasing numbers of accidents, maritime casualties, and unfair criminal investigations,” says Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), the international pan-industry body researching maritime and seafarers’ law.
“The response to this seems to be to blame the seafarer,” says Deirdre Fitzpatrick, executive director of SRI. “The spotlight should be on how the industry responds to these recent casualties. Has Covid-19 played a part in these situations? Will there be fair investigations - as mandatorily required under the IMO Code for Safety Investigations - so lessons can be learned to prevent further tragic loss of seafarers’ lives and damage to the marine environment?”
The organisation refers to the early response from the government of Mauritius to arrest the captain and the chief of the Wakashio following the grounding of the vessel and its impact on the environment.
Early in September the Panamanian-registered vessel Gulf Livestock 1 was tragically lost with around 40 crew members and nearly 6 000 cattle in Typhoon Maysak. This news came as firefighting crews from Sri Lanka and India were working to put out a large blaze aboard the Panamanian-registered oil tanker, New Diamond. One Filipino crew member died, and one was injured in the engine room explosion that sparked the fire.
Members of the SRI have repeatedly warned against the toxic effects of Covid-19 fatigue on safety at sea: “These maritime casualties should re-ignite the debate on how serious the industry is about reducing the number of reported shipping incidents and tackling slow or non-existent investigations into maritime casualties, one of the industry’s most notorious safety shortcomings.”
This comes after a statement about the Wakashio incident released by the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP).