Interviews gathered by academics at the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) reveal that seafarers are often faced with corruption in ports. In practice, they have to deal with demands for cash and provisions when their vessels enter ports. One seafarer even spoke of his crew being forced to resort to food rationing between ports. Another described seeing a supervisor hand over money from his own pocket, fearing a delay to their schedule might cause him to lose his job.
One seafarer said: “There are ports where cigarettes and alcohol are so important that sometimes the pilot boat will refuse to come alongside unless you have a man on the deck waving the cartons for them to take. So that’s a lot of pressure. It causes a lot of discomfort, enough for grown men to shed tears. We feel powerless. It’s very degrading.” Researchers have also been told of incidents where vital safety equipment on board is compromised by thefts of brass fittings.
Another seafarer said: “There are certain ports we go to, where we’ve identified theft is quite high. So, before we arrive, we go around the ship, we remove all those brass fittings so they can’t be taken away. It makes you nervous and worried. We’re trained to deal with fires but we’re not firefighters, so having the safety critical equipment taken away from you because of pilfering leads to that extra stress.”
These first-hand testimonies about corruption in ports are a continuation of research led by Professor Helen Sampson of the Cardiff-based SIRC and are included in a film to raise awareness of their plight. More than 1.5 million people worldwide work at sea, in dangerous conditions and far from home.
Professor Sampson said: “Our research provides insights into the challenges frequently faced by seafarers. We have reports of port officials engaging in a variety of corrupt practices which include demands for facilitation gifts, theft of provisions, demands for cash payments, theft of brass fittings and equipment and fraud in relation to the supply of fuel, known as bunkers.
For seafarers, this situation is more than merely unpleasant. “The amount of resistance they can mount in the face of such practices is limited and they are increasingly constrained by relatively new company policies aligning with anti-corruption legislation. This places them in an unenviable position when they arrive in ports and are met with demands for things, which they cannot provide, from powerful individuals who can arrange for the delay and detention of a ship at considerable cost to their employers,” Sampson highlighted.
More information about the SIRC’s work can be found on their website.