Tu, aged 25, is a Vietnamese seafarer. He worked on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel which was attacked by Somalian pirates then held in captivity from 25th December 2010 to 17th July 2012.

Tu narrated this story in December 2015. He has permitted the translation of his story for use by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP).

Below is a summary. Download the full account here.

On 25th December 2010, Tu was woken up by the sound of an alarm. He was told the fishing vessel was under attack and that the crew was reeling in the fishing equipment in order to retreat. However, upon seeing a Korean tanker in the distance, the crew believed they were safe and continued with their day. Then they saw motorboats approaching and within minutes the pirates had boarded their vessel. The pirates were armed and their plan was to use the fishing vessel to detect and capture hostages from other ships.

The crew were fed on rice that had been wet for some time and had started to mould. At first, the crew refused the rice but realising they would not eat without it, they learned to at first pinch their noses to avoid the smell, then eventually they became used to the moulding food. During this period, the pirates would contact the ship owner and demand a ransom, then be turned down as the amount was thought too much.

Eventually, the vessel's fuel ran out and the pirates tortured the chief engineer when he could suggest no way to restart the engine. However, the second engineer advised them to open all the fuel oil tanks to collect the remaining oil, and this was enough to reach an island. For a short time, the crew persuaded the pirates to let them fish, then the pirates retracted their permission. Some of the crew fished anyway, but if they were caught, they were beaten.

After some time, the vessel drifted and ran aground. The crew were then transferred to land by motorboats. They stayed in an uninhabited house, and were made to carry all the equipment from the vessel ashore, they were forced to carry twice their body weight and were beaten if they could not manage. The crew found some rolls of string and knitted fishing nets, they again persuaded the pirates to let them fish (by swimming out to sea), this was again short lived as the sea was rough and the pirates did not want to lose the money from any of their hostages if they drowned. One day, the pirates made the skipper phone the ship owner and demand a ransom, and when he was refused, they beat him. The pirates began beating and torturing the rest of the crew when their demands were refused.

Later, the pirates led the crew into the forest where they lived under the shade of a tree. They were so hungry, they weren't sure they would survive and started to catch grasshoppers to eat. To drink, the pirates gave them a strange dark liquid that was bitter and caused them stomach pains and kept them awake. However, if they did not drink it, they would go thirsty. One day, one of the seafarers woke to find pimples all over his body; it transpired they were maggots living under his skin. Other members of the group soon had the same problem.

One day, an interpreter arrived and asked them what they had been dreaming of. They naturally replied being released, and he informed them that this day had come. The crew cried with happiness. They were then separated into two groups, one would be taken to the location where the ransom was to be dropped by aircraft, and the other would be held back until the money was received. A naval ship had come to collect the group, but the sea was rough and the motorboats they had originally sent to transfer them ran ashore. Instead, a helicopter was sent to transfer them, and the Chinese naval ship took the crew to Tanzania where they stayed at the Vietnamese embassy until they were repatriated.

Tu was relived to be home but was in a state of panic due to having been in captivity for such a long period. His loved ones were surprised at his changeable behaviour. He swore that he would never return to sea after the incident, but was forced to break his oath as he was unable to find another job ashore.

However, he married in early 2015 and continues to lead his life as a free man.

XiuXing3

Introducing Eidesvik, Winner of the Shipping Company of the Year Award 2015.

The award is bestowed upon the shipping company, or ship management company that has done the most to provide the highest quality of welfare services for seafarers.

Who is Eidesvik?

Eidesvik is a shipping company based in Bømlo, Norway. It owns and operates 28 vessels and trades worldwide. The categories for these vessels are Offshore Supply Vessels, Special Purpose Ships and Seismic Vessels.

What services are provided for seafarers by the company?

Eidesvik offers a range of free leisure activities for seafarers, encouraging them to exercise more. Since 2007, they have run an exercise programme with incentives to reach different levels. All vessels have an up-to-date gym, and the company organises annual cycling and football tournaments which are open to all seafarers. They also offer free holiday accommodation in Norway, Spain and Turkey for seafarers and their families.

Free internet and television is available in all cabins and day rooms, and seafarers have free telephone access. Eidesvik also offers scholarships.

What support is provided for the families of seafarers by the company?

Family members have access to the company intranet for information. The company offers an extended insurance package to include family members, and sends flowers to all families with seafaring family members at sea during Christmas.

What does winning mean to Eidesvik?

Terje Sagebakken, HACQ Vice President of Eidesvik "It's a great honour for Eidesvik... The seafarer is our most valuable resource [and] asset... We have always, since the company has been founded 50 years ago, supported our seafarers and have strived to give them the best working environment we can... We feel that seafarers are well taken care of within our company, and it's a great honour for us to have been nominated."

Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, looks at the future of seafarer centres and provides some thoughts about how they can survive and thrive.

Seafarer centres have been around for a long time. There are now approximately 430 seafarer centres around the world, run mainly by the Christian seafarer missions and a small number are run by trade unions, governments, and NGOs. There is a view that the future of centres is limited because of increasing access to the Internet at sea, short turnaround times, restricted shore leave, lack of funding, and doubts about who will staff them in the future. It is timely, therefore, to look at whether there is future for centres, and to think about the welfare services being provided to seafarers in different ways.

Like many other sectors of the world economy, the maritime industry is experiencing fast technological change. With the next generation of High Throughput Satellites, ships are becoming more connected and automated. Drone ships are being talked about more and more, although this is some way off. However, increasing automation may mean fewer but more highly trained seafarers. There is already closer monitoring of ships' operations by shore-side staff with some operational decisions being taken away from ships' masters and crews.

Another new development is the increasing access to credit cards for seafarers. How will this affect seafarers' welfare? Will the crew need to come ashore to top up their mobile phones or buy data? Will they need to come ashore to buy goods, or will they do this online – just as we do?

There is now increased access to the Internet at sea for seafarers. According to the recent Crew Connectivity survey, 58% of seafarers now have some form of access while at sea.
More and more Wi-Fi is being installed on ships that seafarers can access in either their cabins or common mess areas. We all know that access to the Internet for communicating back home is the number one concern of seafarers.

A new game changer is the growing use of smartphones by seafarers. The Crew Connectivity survey 2015 found that 77% of crew now take smartphones on board. It has taken over from the laptop as the most popular communication device for seafarers. They are now able to use smartphones for web browsing, banking, Skype, and connection to other apps. Mobile data packages for smartphones are becoming cheaper. The increasing use of smartphones may be the biggest threat to the continued existence of seafarer centres because seafarers are able to shop and communicate on them cheaply and without the need to go to the traditional centres.

It is expensive to run seafarer centres: costs for staff, rent, and utilities must be covered. Many centres have seen their income generation from bars and sales of phone cards decline. There is an uphill struggle to bring in other funds to keep the centres going. There is keen competition for a limited amount of funding from a small number of grant giving foundations. What compounds this is the reluctance of funders to pay for running costs. They would often prefer to pay for capital, or specific projects. Seafarer Centres also have to compete with other more popular causes when raising funds from the general public. With ports often cut off from local communities, many people do not feel the need to donate to facilities for visiting seafarers.

Another key issue for the future of centres is staffing. Around the world, particularly in North America, the age profile of welfare workers and chaplains is increasingly older. There is a serious concern about where the new generation of welfare workers are going to come from. There is a drive to the 'professionalise' seafarers' welfare with pressure coming from funders and also from ports. This is a positive development but it does present the sector with a number of challenges in recruiting new people and developing a career path.

Another issue is the recruitment and retention of volunteers. There is a major challenge of how to recruit and keep volunteers, especially young people who now have different priorities and expectations. This is a big problem in countries around the world where there is little tradition of volunteering such as in Brazil or Ukraine. In these countries, seafarer centres have to rely mainly on paid staff and this incurs major costs. In contrast, in North America and Western Europe the sector relies heavily on volunteers.

Despite the problems and challenges, there is some good news. Around the world, there are centres that are thriving and have a bright future. In Boston, USA, the New England Seafarers' Mission is raising funds by charging seafarers small amounts to receive their packages from online shopping. They plan to bring in over $20,000 each year from this activity. This service also provides an opportunity to bring seafarers into the centre.

In Immingham in the UK, the centre had to close for a period to be renovated after being damaged by flooding. This gave the centre management the opportunity to reconfigure the centre to provide income generation by renting out of rooms and facilities to the port. It was important that seafarers were not displaced and that they remained the central users of the centre. The large meeting room, holding 50+, is in almost constant weekday use. The centre hopes to generate over $450,000 per year in trading income.

Another example of a thriving centre is Kandla in India. They have now opened a second centre in the port to serve the oil terminal. They part fund the centres through a compulsory port levy of $25 per ship for seafarers' welfare. Bremerhaven in Germany is another centre that benefits from port levies. The levy is voluntary but approximately 70% of the ships pay.

However, the main seafarer welfare organisations often have to take difficult decisions to close down unviable centres to support the development of centres in new or expanding ports. There is clearly a need for centres, especially in ports that are far away from towns or cities. With the range of pressures on seafarers at sea (such as fatigue, social isolation, and separation from loved ones) it is beneficial for crew to go ashore and find people that they can trust who offer a range of welfare services.

One solution to the shortage of funding is to look at developing seafarer centres as social enterprise projects that generate income and revenue from both seafarers and other users. We know that seafarers spend money on communications, electronic and consumer goods so why not provide opportunities for seafarers to do this at centres?

There are barriers to this of course. Chaplains and welfare workers concentrate on pastoral work and do not always have the time, desire, or experience to set up social enterprises. This is where we as a sector should come together to gain knowledge and skills and also to share success stories.

One initiative that we could take would be to talk to funders to see if they can set up an innovation fund so centres can apply for feasibility study and training grants. We need to look at what the rest of the world is doing and learn from them – both within seafarers' welfare and outside. Financial and expert support is required to enable this to happen.

Partnerships should be built – in ports and also internationally. It could be that ship owners or other maritime companies help us gain some of these commercial skills by seconding staff or helping to train welfare workers. We need to demonstrate to these companies that we can work together to sustain centres by working co-operatively and in partnership with them for the benefit of seafarers.

We need fresh thinking. Some of this is already taking place, but more should be done. ISWAN is ready to facilitate bringing new ideas into the sector so that seafarer centres can have a relevant and bright future.

If you have any comments or thoughts about the future of seafarer centres please let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Seafarers' Welfare Committee in Bangladesh is an excellent example of how government bodies, the commercial sector, unions and ports can work collaboratively to improve the welfare of seafarers. Following the formation of a welfare committee, and in line with the ILO MLC recommendations in 2009, a Welfare Levy was established in January 2014 in order to collect sustainable funding for welfare facilities for seafarers visiting Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh.

The development of the International Drop in Centre near the port of Chittagong was originally funded by a grant of 100,000 USD from the ITF Seafarers' Trust nearly six years ago, and is now funded entirely by a Welfare Levy of 20 USD collected from each ship calling at the port. Over 103,000 USD have been collected since the Levy took effect nearly two years ago. The funds not only finance the running costs of the International Drop in Centre, they also cover the costs of transport, medical supplies and recreational activities for visiting seafarers of all nationalities. In addition, they have helped to support the establishment of a canteen, hospital and library for seafarers.

The success of the Levy means that the Government of Bangladesh are able to put together future plans to extend the International Seafarers' Welfare Drop in Centre with the aim of providing further facilities for seafarers. ISWAN is pleased to report on the committee's successful implementation of a Welfare Levy to support facilities for seafarers. It is especially encouraging during a time when many organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to fund services for seafarers. More information about port levies can be found here. If you need assistance in setting up a Port Welfare Committee, you can contact the Port Welfare Partnership Project here.

The main committee comprises of the Directorate of Seamen Welfare (Government) as Chairman Mohammad Nurul Alam Nizami; Emdadul H Chowdhury - Haque & Sons Ltd - the Vice Chairman; Shafiqur Rahman - President Bangladesh Semen's Association (ITF Affiliated Union) as Secretary. ISWAN joins in congratulating them for their tremendous work to assist the seafarers of Bangladesh and visiting seafarers, and wishes them well as their activities expand.

The International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) is pleased to announce that Ms Karin Orsel has joined the board as a trustee. Karin is the Chief Executive Officer of MF Shipping in the Netherlands, President of WISTA International, and Vice Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping.

Per Gullestrup, Chairmain of ISWAN, said "We warmly welcome Karin onto the ISWAN board and we look forward to working with her. Karin will add a lot of valuable experience to ISWAN's mission to promote the welfare of seafarers around the world."

Karin Orsel added "Seafarers face many challenges in their daily lives both on board and ashore. I believe I can contribute my knowledge and skills as a ship owner to ISWAN to help the organisation improve the lives and wellbeing of crews."

ISWAN is the international NGO that works to improve the welfare of seafarers worldwide. ISWAN is a membership organisation that works with shipowners, maritime companies, unions, welfare organisations, and governments. ISWAN runs the 24 hour helpline for seafarers, SeafarerHelp and a range of projects to improve the health and welfare of crews both at sea and in port.

ISWAN is delighted to welcome IKMAL as a new member.

The Ikhtisas Kelautan Malaysia (IKMAL), the Association of Malaysia's Maritime Professionals – is a maritime professional body for those who are engaged in the maritime sector in Malaysia. IKMAL was established in 1985 and is aimed at seagoing and shore-based officers holding certificates of competency (CoC) or a degree in maritime-biased studies.

IKMAL's primary objective is to "represent, promote and protect the interests and welfare of IKMAL's registered members by complying with generally recognised international standard operating procedures which will be monitored by its permanent Secretariat through its international links and affiliations worldwide." Its activities include conducting maritime conferences, seminars and forums, as well as publishing a biannual Journal called "Maritime Malaysia". This year IKMAL celebrated 30 years of existence.

Joining ISWAN

IKMAL opted to be a member of ISWAN so as to facilitate its members with readily-available assistance should it be required, wherever they may be around the globe, as well as to reciprocate this help to others in need when in Malaysia.

Recent activities

In November 2015, IKMAL established a Seafarers' Education Fund (SEF) with an initial seed fund of RM 50000.00 (approximately £7,800 GBP). The objective is to assist IKMAL Members in enhancing their competencies and to improve their career mobility.

For World Maritime Day 2015, IKMAL organised an International Conference entitled "Maritime Education and Training - Impact & Prospects for Stakeholders" as well as holding a Golf Tournament.

The 2016 International Seafarers' Welfare Awards were launched on the 27th November 2015.

Nominations are open until the 8th February 2016, and can be made here.

Here, the film of the 2015 Awards, held at the International Maritime Association in London, is available to view.

ISWAN are delighted to welcome Synergy Marine Group as a new member. Here, Synergy describes its role in caring for seafarers' welfare.

What prompted Synergy to join ISWAN?

"The welfare of seafarers is one of the firm objectives of Synergy Group. Seafarers deserve appreciation and respect for a job well done, not just from within the maritime industry, but from people from all walks of life. They continue to take a pivotal role in underpinning international trade. It has been said that without their contribution, half the world would freeze and the other half starve. ISWAN, over the years has played a stellar role in seafarers' welfare with initiatives like establishing welfare facilities around the world and training ship visitors, and they have indeed made a huge difference. It is for the welfare of the 4000+ Synergy seafarers of various nationalities that we thought of synergising with ISWAN."

How does Synergy demonstrate commitment to the welfare of its Seafarers?

"Synergy Group treats the health and welfare of its staff with the upmost importance. We offer comprehensive medical coverage, including repatriation services for staff who are severely ill; we also provide comprehensive healthcare benefits to our staff, even when they are on leave (which includes their immediate family). We also ensure that sailing staff have an environment conducive to work and good recreational facilities on-board: including social events, gym and sports equipment and an extensive book and video library. An on-board committee oversees mess management so that there is a healthy, balanced diet, which caters to different food requirements. The company tries to meet seafarers' assignment requests, providing training for all ranks as well as offering promotion options. We also provide employment to kin of seafarers, but each prospective entrant (both at sea and ashore) has to go through an entrance test. In 2014-15 alone, 62 such recommendations from our seafarers were honoured.

Structured debriefing on completion of an assignment on-board is carried out for each seafarer and grievances (if any) are promptly addressed.
We recognize the importance of providing quality training to our seafarers and the difference it makes in their safety and wellbeing. We believe that training is the key to operating safe and efficient ships on greener seas. Our state of the art training centre in Chennai helps impart cutting edge skills to seafarers from across the world.

Last but not the least, being seafarers ourselves, we understand that there is nothing more important to a seafarer whilst he is on-board than timely remission of his/her wages and timely sign-off. At Synergy, we focus on these basic needs of our seafarers, wages are remitted before the end of each month and we have an overdue relief rate of less than 1%."

Does Synergy have any current or upcoming projects which will improve the services and facilities available to its seafarers?

"As part of one of Synergy Groups CSR initiatives –we have installed a drinking water cooler at the 'Seafarers Club Chennai' and are in process of installing two more. The Club is a home away from home for young seafarers appearing for their competency examinations, and is also frequented by seafarers of different nationalities (as the Chennai port is just a stone's throw away).

We look forward to working closely with ISWAN towards the welfare and wellbeing of seafarers."

 

The International Seafarers' Welfare Awards 2016 are being launched today. For seafarers, welfare services and facilities can be a lifeline when working away from home for long periods of time.

These awards, generously funded by the ITF Seafarers' Trust, recognise excellence in the provision of welfare services, acknowledging shipping companies, welfare organisations, ports and individuals - on ship, as well as ashore. They showcase good practice within the industry, and highlight the commitment and dedication shown in the service to seafarers.

With nominations now open, seafarers are encouraged to recognise those that have shown them exceptional service this year. Seafarers are urged to nominate for the award categories: Seafarers' Centre of the Year; Shipping Company of the Year; Port of the Year; and The Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year. The latter can also be self-nominated, or nominated by anyone in the maritime welfare field.

The winners of the 2015 International Seafarers' Welfare Awards were:

  • Shipping Company of the Year: Eidesvik
  • Port of the Year: Port of Halifax (NS Canada)
  • Seafarer Centre of the Year: Bremerhaven Seafarer Centre and Seamen's Club Welcome
  • The Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year (Individual): Chirag Bahri- MPHRP India
  • The Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year (Organisation): NUSI (National Union of Seafarers of India)
  • Judges' Special Award: Reverend Ken Peters
  • Judges' Posthumous Award: Paul Karras, Founder of Hunterlink Recovery Services

Roger Harris, Executive Director, International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network said "We rely on seafarers to bring us almost everything we need. They often have to spend long periods away from loved ones without many of the home comforts we take for granted. These awards recognise those individuals, companies, organisations and ports that prioritise the welfare of seafarers. They give seafarers the chance to say thank you to those who have gone to considerable lengths to improve their lives on board and ashore all over the world."

The awards are organised by the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), and supported by the International Chamber of Shipping, International Transport Workers' Federation, and International Christian Maritime Association.

The awards are generously funded by a grant from the ITF Seafarers' Trust.

Sponsors of the awards include Wrist Ship Supply (Seafarers' Centre of the Year Award) and the International Chamber of Shipping (Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year Award). Crewtoo is the media sponsor.

Nominations close on 8th February 2016.

 

 

 

China has become the 68th ILO member State to have ratified the Maritime Labour Convention. As the fourth pillar of the international maritime legal regime, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the MLC, 2006 has placed decent working and living conditions of seafarers and fair competition for shipowners at the forefront of maritime affairs.

With over 250,000 seafarers and a merchant fleet of 44,474,904 gross tonnage of shipping, China plays a significant role in the maritime industry. Its ratification of the MLC, 2006, is anticipated to have a strong impact on the working and living conditions of the world's seafarers.

In transmitting the instrument of ratification, Ambassador WU Hailong, Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations, stated: "it is a great honour to present the instrument of ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. I am confident that China will not only fulfil the obligations to effectively implement the Convention, but will also drive global efforts to promote compliance with the Convention throughout the world."

In welcoming the ratification of the MLC, 2006, the Director-General, Mr Guy Ryder, said: "It is a great pleasure to welcome the ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, by the People's Republic of China. This ratification is of particular significance given the great contribution by the People's Republic of China to shipping and its immense importance to the global fleet. China has approximately 3,000 vessels flying its flag, and its regulations implementing the MLC, 2006, will contribute to ensuring that the decent working and living conditions enshrined in the Convention are respected across international waters."

The MLC, 2006, entered into force on 20 August 2013 for the first 30 member States that had registered their ratifications by 20 August 2012. To date, the States that have ratified the MLC, 2006, represent over 80 per cent of the world gross tonnage of shipping. The Convention will enter into force for the People's Republic of China on 12 November 2016, that is one year after its ratification.

ILO press release here.