ITF calls on Mauritius to release Wakashio crew

Written by Nick Blenkey
Wakashio after grounding

After grounding, Wakashio split as the result of progression of a crack in its No. 8 cargo hold, reports owner. [Image: Mobilisation Nationale Wakashio]

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is calling for the immediate release and repatriation of the crew of the MV Wakashio (IMO: 9337119), the Capesize bulker that made the headlines when it grounded off Mauritius last year, causing widespread pollution. Its crew have since been held by Mauritian authorities.

“This week marks the one year anniversary of the grounding of the MV Wakashio and the environmental catastrophe associated with it,” said David Heindel, ITF Seafarers’ Section chair. “This week also marks one year since the Mauritian authorities have held members of the crew and prevented them from leaving the Republic, most have been effectively detained without charge.”

Heindel said the ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions have “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew Mauritian authorities. He said the federation last week wrote to the president of the Republic of Mauritius, Prithvirajsing Roopun. In its letter, the ITF appealed for President Roopun’s support to see legal proceedings advanced and the expeditious conclusion of the now-year-long saga faced by the crew.

“The ITF supports thorough, independent investigations of the factors relating to any maritime incident, including those that may have affected the grounding of the MV Wakashio. In this instance, we are concerned about the lack of appropriate legal proceedings taking place regarding the Wakashio crew,” said the Heindel. “While, in a particular context, criminal charges against seafarers may be justified, it is important that people have access to justice and are treated fairly. Access to justice and fair treatment by the authorities are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe the treatment experienced by the crew of the Wakashio violates their human rights.”

Following the grounding, Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and Chief Officer Tilakaratna Subodha were arrested by Mauritian authorities. On August 18, 2020 they were charged with endangering safe navigation. The pair have been detained in prison since their arrest and have been denied bail. Most of the remainder of the crew have been detained under “house arrest” and kept in a local hotel, seemingly on the grounds that they may be required to appear as witnesses in a trial that has yet to commence.

In the ITF’s letter, Heindel and ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton appealed to Mauritian authorities to consider the human cost that delayed proceedings and unnecessary detention would have on the crew and their families:

“At present, the majority of the Wakashio crew in the care of your courts have not been charged with any offense, yet they are still not free to leave Mauritius. As a consequence, some of these seafarers have not seen their families for more than two years. This is because, prior to the maritime accident in July last year, some of the crew had already been on board the vessel in excess of 12 months—beyond the legal limit set by the Maritime Labor Convention (2006, as amended).

“Two years is too long to be away from loved ones. The crew’s ongoing detention adds to the stress of their families many of whom are battling the present pandemic and its economic effects, without the support and presence of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. The families want them to come home.

“We ask that you do all that is within your power and influence to bring this saga to an expeditious conclusion, for the sake of the seafarers—and for the Republic’s reputation of as an upholder of human rights.”

CRIMINALIZATION OF SEAFARERS IS ON THE RISE

Heindel said that while the Wakashio accident was “deeply unfortunate,” with the ITF sharing concerns about the impact of the accident on the ocean environment; the federation could “stand by and allow what appears to be an example of criminalization of seafarers.”

According to Heindel, criminalization of seafarers is on the rise.

“Whether it is felt by the crew of the Wakashio who were effectively detained without charge, or the drawn-out threat of criminal charges against the Ever Given crew to bolster the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating position over damages: seafarers are being cynically targeted all over the world by officials just for doing our jobs,” said Heindel.

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