Criminalisation of Seafarers.
Criminalisation can occur when
seafarers are treated differently from other workers. The
cases below show how the policies of port states can lead to
the persecution of seafarers. AOS USA has campaigned for
justice in one high profile case.
The story of the oil tanker Prestige is notorious. The
ship is owned by a company registered in Liberia but flagged
in the Bahamas. In 2002, the Prestige experienced
difficulties off the coast of Spain. The captain’s request
to bring the ship into port was refused. A heavy storm then
caused the ship to break up and release its cargo of oil
causing severe pollution to nearby coastlines and having a
devastating effect on local fishing. The Greek captain was
subsequently arrested and held by Spanish authorities. He
eventually returned home to Greece in March 2005 but may
have to return to Spain for trial in the future.
EU Directive on Criminal Sanctions for Pollution
Possibly in response to the Prestige case, in 2004 the
European Union issued the Directive on Criminal Sanctions
for Ship-Source Pollution. The aim of this measure was to
deter illegal pollution by imposing harsh penalties. As a
consequence, seafarers could be treated as criminals if they
accidently cause pollution in the waters of any of the 27
countries of the European Union. This measure is currently
being opposed by numerous maritime organisations including
the International Transport Federation.
The Zim Mexico III
However the criminalisation of seafarers is not limited
to Europe nor to cases of pollution. In 2006 Captain
Wolfgang Shröder, from Germany, was charged with negligence
resulting in the death of a man and forced to await trial in
a US prison. The accident occurred in March 2006 on the
Mobile River in Alabama. Acting on the advice of a pilot,
Captain Shröder decided not to request a tug boat but
instead to use the bow thrusters (propeller-like machinery)
to turn his ship, the Zim Mexico III. Unfortunately the bow
thrusters failed, the ship hit the dock knocking over a
crane and killing the driver who was inside.
Shortly after formal charges were brought, the judge
ordered that Captain Shröder be put in prison until the
trial. The seafarer’s extensive international contacts meant
that he was considered a “flight risk”. According to local
press reports, he appeared in court wearing handcuffs and
leg shackles. The charge of manslaughter carried a possible
penalty of ten years in prison.
Resolution of AOS USA
In early February 2007, AOS USA approved a resolution
addressing the criminalisation of seafarers. The resolution
cites the case of Captain Shröder as an example of the
unfair treatment of seafarers involved in maritime
accidents. Father Sinclair Oubré, President of AOS USA, also
wrote to the judge in the case and to Captain Shröder’s
lawyer expressing support for the seafarer and concern at
the tendency to criminalise individuals in cases of maritime
On 8 February 2007, Judge Granade freed Captain Shröder,
ruling that the time he had already spent in prison was
sufficient punishment. The judge used her discretionary
powers in deciding not to bring a charge of manslaughter.
Doreen Badeau, Secretary General of AOS USA, said
We are relieved and encouraged at the decision of the judge.