Seafarers need less lip service from Canada — and more action on eradicating dangerous, criminal FOC shipping

News release    June 23, 2015 10:30 ET

Seafarers Need Less Lip Service From Canada — and More Action on Eradicating Dangerous, Criminal FOC Shipping Industry

Trade Deals Put Our Marine Environment at Clear Risk

VANCOUVER, BC  (Marketwired – June 23, 2015) — Industry should pay less lip service to mariners on the International Day of the Seafarer on June 25 — and instead acknowledge that the Flag-of-Convenience (FOC) ships they work aboard pose severe and increasing risk to Canada’s marine environment and to the health and welfare of the workers that make Canadian trade possible.

Although Canada recently signed on to the international Maritime Labour Convention that lays out minimum standards for seafarers’ living and working conditions, the Harper government is also aggressively pursuing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that would open Canadian coastal trade to foreign ships, precisely because the crew are cheaper and more easily exploited by the Flag-of-Convenience industry.

“It’s ironic, and it’s appalling,” says Peter Lahay, Canadian coordinator for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). “No sooner do we pick up one tool to help us protect the foreign workers who move our goods, than we blow up the industry that provides our own seafarers with decent jobs.

“Many will use International Seafarers Day to pay lip service to the challenges faced by seafarers. But FOCs pose risks to Canada’s marine environment as well. “Their employment practices are exploitative and often brutal. Just last week, in Vancouver harbour, a crew member was found standing upright, on deck, leaning against the bulkhead, asleep because he was exhausted. He was so tired he was literally asleep on his feet. Given the demonstrated role of fatigue in marine accidents, that’s chilling.

“As long as seafarers remain afraid to complain, for fear of blacklisting and worse, then international shipping deserves the scorn that the public heaps upon it. People in communities across Canada are right to worry about the damage an industry with such open disregard for its workers and its operations can do to our waters.

“Domestic shipping must remain a Canadian industry,” Lahay argues. “In our hands, a catastrophic event like the recent oil spill from theMarathassa in English Bay in Vancouver is unlikely to occur, and if it did, the owner of the ship is right down the street. They have a stake in their community. Most important, we know who they are. They’re not some slippery numbered company in the Cayman Islands, Panama or Cyprus.

“Given the fact that the Harper government is hell bent on further opening our coastal trade to foreign vessels through CETA, Canadians will have a clear choice in the upcoming election.” Lahay points to a list of just some of the flag-of-convenience incidents in Canadian waters in the past two years:

  • Hydro Warrior, Sept-Isles, Que: Aug. 22, 2013, first ship in the world detained under two-day-old international MLCITF finds illegal employment contracts, crew cheated of wages, safety violations. Transport Canada detains.
  • Balsa 85, Saint John, NB: 18 crew poisoned after being fed tainted shellfish, three nearly die. Wages found to be substandard.
  • City of Tokyo, New Westminster, BC: Detained for engine-room deficiencies, including leaky pumps. Crew found to have had no shore leave for eight months. No basic provisions, no hot water, cheated on wages. Ship arrested in next port of Tacoma, Wash., suspected of pumping oily water into ocean.
  • Kouyou, Quebec City: Crew cheated on wages, victimized by crewing agency. Wages of $51,233 US owing.
  • Sea Orchid, Come By Chance, Nfld: Crew of oil tanker cheated of wages, backpay of $47,169 US owing.
  • Fritz, Oshawa, Ont: Bulk carrier abandoned, owing wages of $148,137 US.
  • Phoenix, Sorel, Que: Bulk carrier abandoned in port with leaking machinery and safety contraventions, owing wages of $168,022 US.
  • First I, Prince Rupert, BC: Wages of $195,430 US owing. Ship is caught twice in Canada, once in Oregon, for not paying crew.
  • Rena, Prince Rupert: Wages of $148,635 US owing.
  • Nord Explorer, Vancouver, BC: Wages of $146,727 US owing.
  • Bulk Rose, Vancouver: Non-payment of $128,214 US in wages, detained three weeks.
  • Themis P, Vancouver: Crew report to ITF they had been ordered to dump tons of oil and pistons into Pacific Ocean before arrival in port to load grain. They provide video evidence. Transport Canada arrests vessel and obtains conviction.
  • Cruiseship Saint Laurent hits lock wall on St. Lawrence Seaway. Thirty people hurt, vessel is holed and begins to sink. Previous day, crew complained to ITF of being cheated on salary.

Lahay notes that while the MLC, adopted in 2013, will not solve all problems posed by FOC shipping, its official adoption by Canada has begun to show results. Canada’s ITF inspectors, who work to ensure the convention is enforced, have seen many ships sanctioned or detained by Canada, and ITF inspectors have returned more than $1.7 million US in wages to seafarers cheated by their employers since its adoption.


The Day of the Seafarer: An official day of observance by the United Nations, marked annually on 25 June. It was organized by the International Maritime Organization with the aim of increasing public awareness of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers and the unique, and all-too-often overlooked, contribution they make to the well-being and prosperity of the world.

The Maritime Labour Convention: The internationally enforceable convention from the International Labour Organization came into force Aug. 20, 2013. Agreed to by nations, seafarers’ labour unions and ship owners organizations, the MLC is enforceable in Canada by Transport Canada, ships’ crew or by anyone with an interest in crew welfare and who may make a complaint. In many cases, such complaints result in the detention of the vessel until the problems are resolved. According the Transport Canada statistics, 370 deficiencies were found under the MLC in 2014; in the Atlantic region there were 45, in Quebec 166, in Ontario 6, and in the Pacific 153.–en/index.htm

The International Transport Workers Federation in Canada: The ITF’s three Canadian maritime labour inpectors represent foreign seafarers in port. They have been at the forefront of battling Flags of Convenience and ensuring that MLC implementation is used to defend foreign seafarers’ well-being and rights. In the two years since MLC implementation, the inspectorate has seen many ships sanctioned or detained by Transport Canada. The three ITF inspectors have on their own returned more than $1.7 Million US to seafarers who have been cheated by their employers. They have also uncovered countless cases of exploitation and abuse.

CETA: The Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement proposed between Canada and the European Union contains maritime provisions that would open domestic shipping, dredging and passenger service to European-owned shipping. Exploited and overworked foreign crew, unfamiliar with Canada’s sometimes fragile ecosystem, would be allowed to operate between two Canadian ports conducting trade previously reserved for Canadian-flagged and crewed vessels.


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