Port workers urged to look out for slavery on ships

Port workers are being asked to keep an eye out for signs of modern slavery among crews on ships.

Long periods at sea and isolation leave seafarers vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labour, physical and mental abuse and the witholding of wages, according to the Hampshire and Isle of White Modern Slavery Partnership, a collection of charities and agencies.

To tackle the problem port workers are being asked to look out signs of slavery, including poor accommodation, fearful crew members and restrictions on movement.

To mark the International Day of the Seafarer, Jess Gealer, of the Medaille Trust and the partnership’s coordinator, said they were offering training and support to port companies in the area to help them spot the signs of modern slavery.

Although the partnership does what it can to check on the welfare of crews when they come into harbour, Gealer said restricted access to ships and quick turnarounds in port make it difficult for them to reach everyone.

“We can’t just rely on one or two people from Apostleship of the Sea [a charity]. It has to be everyone that comes into contact with seafarers, with the ships,” said Gealer.

“Port agents, who the ships need to get in touch with to do their administration and things like that, people that are loading and off-loading the ships, they’re going to come across crews,” said Gealer.

Gealer says the problem is not as prevalent in the international shipping industry as other sectors, but it does exist. 

“I’ve certainly worked with people who’ve had really horrendous working conditions. They’ve not been paid, they’ve not been allowed leave, they’re at sea for like a year and brutally treated and punished with violence and all these horrible things. But the thing is no one will take responsibility for it because it’s such a complicated international situation,” she said. 

However, Gealer said the UK does have some jurisdiction under international law.

“We’re saying the standards are already there in place and laws are already in there. We’re just asking people to look for it and actively, proactively look for people that are breaking these laws and reporting it immediately,” she said.

“If you do see any signs of modern slavery, exploitation, even the smallest concern, call the police and get them to come and have a look at it because it is a crime and one we can deal with in the UK.”

The partnership says some of the signs of modern slavery on ships include:

  • Crew lacking self-esteem or seeming anxious or fearful, or not being in position of their own documents.
  • Crew not receiving wages or having wages “delayed”
  • Poor accommodation such as filthy shower and toilet areas and galleys without adequate food or drinking water
  • Crew being not being given sufficient rest hours
  • Evidence of violence and or sexual abuse or crew needing medical attention
  • Restriction over freedom of movement, including shore leave and repatriation services

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