MAC: Mines and Communities

Revealed: the abuse of seafarers who help turn our lights on

Published by MAC on 2005-11-15

Revealed: the abuse of seafarers who help turn our lights on

Apostleship of the Sea Press Release Great Britain

15th November 2005

The charity responsible for deploying Catholic chaplains and ship visitors in Britain's ports is seeking to draw attention to the abuse which can be endured by seafarers as they bring us the coal we use to generate electricity, and the other goods we use and consume every day.

The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) is highlighting the issue after its Chaplain to the Port of Tilbury, Fr Paul Boagey MHM, intervened on behalf of the Burmese crew of a cargo ship importing coal who were allegedly owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

When the M/V Ljubljana arrived in Tilbury on Thursday 3 November, bringing with it a cargo of coal from Latvia, the crew complained to the International Transport Federation (ITF) about the non-payment of outstanding wages and the Admiralty Marshall arrested the ship. On hearing the news of the arrest, Fr Paul sprang into action and provided support and practical assistance to those on board - both crewmembers and officers - who had been away from family and loved ones back home for ten months.

It became clear that denial of their wages was not all the crew had had to contend with. It was alleged by crewmembers in an anonymous statement that they were subjected to verbal racist attacks, denied warm clothing, refused breaks during shifts, and deprived of adequate food supplies.

Fr Paul visited the crew up to three times each day, and learned that the crew had felt unable to voice their grievances openly before out of fear of being black-listed and refused employment in the future. It was also claimed that representatives of the manning agent had even paid visits to homes of crewmembers' families in Burma, telling them that the seafarers faced imprisonment abroad if they caused any trouble.

As result of Fr Paul's hard work and the excellent service provided by the ITF, in collaboration with others, on Thursday 10 November the crew received a settlement of $194,000. This constituted their unpaid wages in full and the costs of repatriation to Burma.

Commodore Chris York, National Director of AOS, praised Fr Paul's work with the crew of the M/V Ljubljana, and said: "Unfortunately, abuse of seafarers' rights and human dignity is not uncommon in the modern globalised maritime industry. There are many excellent ship owners and manning agents, but also many unscrupulous operators who hide behind flags of convenience and treat seafarers as mere commodities to be exploited and then dispensed with. However, we say 'no' to the enslavement of seafarers. They are not just a commodity, but the most vital resource of the maritime industry. and more than that - they are our brothers and sisters."

Commodore York continued: "This case also highlights our level of dependence on seafarers. Not only do 95% of the goods we use and consume every day come to us by ship, but so does much of the fuel we need to generate the electricity to light our homes. So next time we flick a light switch or turn on the television, let us remember the often hidden plight of seafarers whose contribution to our quality of life cannot be understated."


The Apostleship of the Sea (Great Britain) is an agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of England & Wales and Scotland. It is also an independent charity wholly reliant on voluntary donations to continue its ministry. AOS deploys chaplains and ship visitors to provide pastoral and practical support for the one million seafarers who visit our shores each year. In collaboration with its ecumenical partners, AOS also provides drop-in seafarers' centres in ports.

More information about the work of the Apostleship of the Sea is available from AOS on 020 7588 8285 or at


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