It is important for seafarers to do all they can to avoid causing pollution of the marine environment. Sometimes commercial pressures put seafarers in difficult situations and although the company may not instruct the crew to take shortcuts, this may be the only way to keep to deadlines. In the current climate, any action that could cause damage to the environment, whether intentional or by accident, can lead to seafarers taking the blame and being treated as criminals.
How do legal systems vary?
Each country has its own judicial system, and not all apply procedures with which you may be familiar or expect in your home country. For example, the right to remain silent, confidentiality of information, safeguards covering arrest and detention, access to legal advice and representation, a fair trial, and processes for extradition will vary between countries. If in doubt, be sure to get advice from your union and/or from your company.
What is serious negligence?
A new European Directive criminalises pollution caused unintentionally. It uses a vague concept of ‘serious negligence’, outside of European law, and fails to safeguard the rights of seafarers caught up in incidents of marine pollution. An industry coalition has presented a legal challenge to the validity of the EU Directive on Ship Source Pollution – a judgment is due in 2008.
What should I do if there is an accident?
If your vessel is involved in a maritime accident, there are international guidelines to ensure that you are treated fairly if there is an investigation or if you are detained following the accident.
Be aware that information given in the investigation of a maritime accident could be used against you in a criminal prosecution. So, if you are questioned about an accident involving your vessel, ask for a lawyer if necessary, and contact your union and/or company for advice and assistance.
The state under which your ship is flagged has the right under international law to institute legal proceedings requesting the immediate release of any seafarers detained following an accident or pollution incident at sea. Unfortunately, Flags of Convenience (FOC) states are notorious in failing to pursue this right on behalf of crews of ships under their flags.
Your shipowner and the ship's insurers should provide you with legal support and advice if you are arrested or detained, and support any welfare needs that arise. International Maritime Organization (IMO)/International Labour Organization (ILO) guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident are available for viewing, using the link on the right of this page.