By Zahraa Schroeder
Delegates from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are gathering in Cape Town for a week-long conference on issues facing the maritime industry. Their aim is to learn from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and the South African fishing industry on how best to improve the working and living conditions of seamen in their own countries.
Paul Vieira, who is a marine surveyor for the SAMSA, presented a highly anticipated checklist system that provides seamen with a convenient way to survey their vessels and workers’ conditions before setting out to sea.
The checklists and effective legal framework came into effect after South Africa backed the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) – commonly known as the ‘C188’. The objective is to enforce fishers’ rights to decent living and working conditions.
In the past, these checklists pertained to large vessels. Now, a legal framework has been implemented to effect ships that are smaller than 24 meters in length. Vieira insists that the key to making this effective is transparency between SAMSA, the skipper and the crew.
The completed checklist is submitted to SAMSA who then send one of their 55 authorised inspectors to perform an inspection of the vessel. Naturally, if it goes off without a hitch, a safety order will be granted, and the vessel will be allowed to go to sea. If the skipper is in violation of the submitted checklist, they will either be issued a warning or an exemption certificate. In severe cases where violations have been repeated, the skipper will be detained – the vessel will be prohibited from leaving the port, any certification for that specific area will be revoked and if necessary, the skipper will be handed over to the authorities.
To add to the importance of crew welfare, SAMSA’s fishing safety specialist Selwyn Bailey took to the podium with a video displaying the horrific conditions some fishermen face. It explained that given the great demand from countries like Thailand, some seamen are forced into a type of slavery. Living off of the bait used to catch fish, working until all feeling was lost in their hands and sleeping on the damp cold floor of the hull.
It was asked that if these ships were not up to standard, sailed with hundreds of workers, the possibility of stowaways seems relatively high. In the case that an inspector came across stowaways what would SAMSA have to do?
A SAMSA inspector said that although these cases are rare in the fishing industry, if a stowaway was found on a boat, the authorities would be alerted immediately – Customs Offices, Social Welfare and the police. They added that SAMSA does not have the authority to make arrests or to detain anyone but has pledged to deal with any situation with integrity.
Bailey went on to deliver a presentation on the various documents needed for maintaining crew welfare, especially the contract or crew agreement. Dealing with issues of repatriation, recruitment and placement. The documents are clearly set to protect workers from the abuses of the past.
After lunch, the group of delegates were taken to the Cape port and boarded the Ferox, where SAMSA inspectors demonstrated a mock inspection of the vessel.
Although the impromptu arrival of guests, Skipper Roberto Schimmers was more than ready with his binders of contracts, safety orders and list of crew members. The inspector whipped out the checklist and within 10 minutes, the inspection was complete. The group then proceeded down into the accommodation area of the workers. Although small, the living conditions were hygienic, up to standard and safe.
The crew were asked how they cope with being out at sea for 5-7 days at a time. They said that it was hard, especially having to be away from their families for that time. And even without the intimidation of the captain, the workers said confidently that their wages were being paid on time, with one worker commenting that the only time it wouldn’t be is when they receive a bonus the day before.
As the international demand from fishing countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia continue to grow, experts say it is imperative to protect the workers who have literally risked limbs and life to maintain its booming popularity.