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CRIMES AND SEAFARERS

Seafarers unfortunately suffer crime just as folks who live ashore do.  Quite often they occur while the seafarer is ashore and are the same as persons living ashore suffer from.  The other type of crime is somewhat unique to seagoing for example currently and in the last couple of decades there has been an upsurge in piracy.

This increase NAUTICAL LOG believes is largely due to two attitude causes the Marine Insurance Industry and Law Firms.  The current trend amongst Shipowners and their Management Companies is to follow the advice of these persons and just pay the ransom demanded by the pirates hoping to have the ship released - there is little or no concern for the crews in many cases.  Economic and social conditions in the countries involved in piracy offer little incentive to change from their life style of crime - which piracy is and actually a hanging offence - when rarely is punishment enforced and the ransom demanded is paid.  In addition seafarers are not allowed to defend themselves with extreme prejudice and when this actually occurs some Nations take extreme offence against the seafarers security persons as India did still detaining the Italian military personnel for trial.

The approach to dealing with crime at sea aboard ship is complicated as an example take those that occur in the cruise ships.  These vessels are manned by hundreds of crew who are of many different nationalities, various cultures, speaking many languages with supposedly English as the lingua franca - well from 25 years of personal experience as a cruise ship Officer good luck with that !!  

Really considered in comparison to crime rates ashore crimes at sea amongst crewmembers and against passengers - the correct legal term but called "guests" by the Hotel Industry trained persons who now operate cruise ships - are at quite a low rate.  It is difficult to deal with and prosecute these crimes as International Maritime Law recognizes the Flag State as the nationality of the vessel.  Passengers fail to understand when they purchase a cruise ticket they are covered only by what is printed on the back in very small print.   Once they step on board the vessel even while it is still at a cruise terminal they are now in the Flag State Nation bound by and subject to its Laws regardless of their own Nationality or the country the cruise terminal is in.  To summarize, when you board a Panamanian Flag State cruise ship at the Port of Miami, Florida you are legally in the Republic of Panama. 

  
Mostly the cruise lines, Flag State and local law enforcement are not particularly interested in getting involved.  There are U.S. law firms who specialize in the miseries of passengers with the cruise lines but in actual fact it is only on rare occasions that much comes of it and after the first flush of reports on CNN or FOX it fades quietly away with a settlement in confidence.  NAUTICAL LOG knows these law firms quite well based in both Texas and Florida and they are going to disagree strongly with this viewpoint but that is how it works in practice.

When NAUTICAL LOG came to sea as a Cadet on December 29, 1953 some 60 years ago most accidents involving vessels be they collisions, cargo damage or whatever nautical event it was were treated "In Rem" and charges were brought against the ship.  The Master while considered responsible was usually the scapegoat and maybe the Officer on Watch got punished as well.  With the formation of the European Union the concept of Common Law of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland was mixed in with the concept of Code Napoleon law applied in other European nations.  The result - besides mountains of regulations many of which confuse the others with the result none are followed correctly it seems - is that maritime law is now applied "In Personam" and the seafarers are charged and punished as individuals involved in the nautical event.

 
Thus in the case of the MS Costa Concordia this thinking led to an Indonesian helmsman being charged and punished when the Master and several Senior Deck Officers were all on the Bridge at the time of the grounding.  Absolutely disgraceful even allowing for the fact that it was under Italian law which is something of a mystery even to the Italians themselves.  Also in the United States Masters have been removed from their vessels in handcuffs on several occasions and without the presence of a lawyer.  This has been done by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) which issues seagoing papers to U.S. Citizens, acts as the law enforcement agency, judge and jury to all seafarers under the terms of the IMO-STCW.  This is particularly the case when non-citizens in command of non-U.S. Flag State ships are involved and is a clear violation of the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  The United States unfortunately picks and chooses these principles when non-U.S. citizens are involved which is not helpful to U.S. seafarers overseas.

Good Watch.




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