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Criminalisation is one of the most serious problems facing seafarers today. When there has been a maritime accident, or a pollution infringement, seafarers have often been detained and denied access to normal rules of fair play and justice with which to defend themselves against criminal charges. There have also been cases where illicit cargo has been found on board a ship and seafarers have consequently been imprisoned, even when they have had no knowledge of how this came about, and no evidence was presented.

This is a worldwide problem and both sides of industry wish to see action taken. Arising from the continued neglect of seafarers, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Guidelines on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the event of a maritime accident were adopted on 1st July 2006. Unfortunately many countries do not follow these Guidelines and the ITF wishes to see them more widely promoted and enforced.

It is essential that National Governments implement these Guidelines. Accidents and pollution at sea can arise as a result of circumstances that are beyond the seafarers’ control. But if there is a media storm then the ship’s crew can be the easiest target when public authorities seek to demonstrate they are taking action. Seafarers have a right to undertake their work without fear of being treated unfairly, or, even worse, placed in detention without recourse to fair justice and representation.

The ITF has developed a Criminalisation Toolkit (see link on the right) to support the rights of seafarers to fair treatment.