As the IMO celebrates the year of the seafarer, it played host to the launch of a new initiative. Seafarers' Rights International is a new centre to advance the rights of seafarers and their legal protection on a worldwide basis.
The centre is being funded initially by a start up grant from the ITF Seafarers Trust charity, but ITF General Secretary David Cockroft was the first to stress that it will be an independent body and there would be no outside control by the Union. The centre will be "above politics" he said.
Some of the issues that will be tackled include piracy – over 350 crew are still be held hostage by Somali pirates – and abandoned seafarers, 647 of them in 2009, four times as many as in 2008. In a previous life as a maritime lawyer, yours truly recalls acting for the buyer of a ship at auction and taking delivery of the vessel from the crew who had been abandoned nearly a year beforehand. The memory of this ragbag but dignified bunch of Ukrainian seafarers is etched firmly in the memory banks and makes me ashamed that as an industry we have not done more to help abandoned seafarers. The issue may not be as newsworthy as pirates and there may not be an external enemy we can point the finger at. All the more easily then we could have done something about it years ago!
Moving on, the event at the IMO also included the handing over of a petition to IMO secretary general Efthimios Mitropoulos containing nearly 1m signatures, calling for government action to end piracy. Hurrah for petitions.