Seafarers and dockers workers unions in India and Sri Lanka launched a week long industrial action (22-26 November), against `Flags of Convenience’ (FOC) shipping. ITF Inspectors and union activists at all major ports in India launched investigation of ships, crew contracts, and working and living conditions on board FOC ships, notorious for employing seafarers on exploitative conditions.
24 mercantile vessels were inspected by union teams today in various Indian ports and Colombo. Joint dockers and seafarers action in Mumbai led to the signing of an ITF approved agreement on board m.v Lugela, ensuring respectable wages and decent work conditions to the crew. The ship is owned by Kori Shipping Company in Greece but flies the Panama flag and employs Ukrainian seafarers on board and. It is ships like these which fly the flag of a country other than of its ownership and even employing crew of a third nation, which are classified as flag of convenience (FOC) ships. Ship-owners use FOC registers for many reasons for example, cheap registration fees, low or no tax payment and the freedom to employ crew on poor salary and terms of work conditions.
Elsewhere in Paradip on board m.t Magnum Force (Marshall Islands flag) and Chennai on board m.v Sun Glory (Panama flag) the Union teams were met with stiff resistance from the Captain who refused to divulge any information about the crew wage and employment contracts on board their ships. ITF Inspector in Visakhapatnam and his team of activists inspected 6 ships in port. They have initiated negotiations with a Hong Kong based shipping company to sign an agreement to improve crew wages and working conditions and served notice of warning on board m.v Xinda (Panama flag). In Haldia the union activists took action demanding renewal of a crew agreement which had expired in March 2010 on board m.v Harries (Marshall Islands flag) and owned in USA. In Tuticorin port the Union activists discovered that ITF approved agreement on board covered only 13 of the 18 crew members on board m.v Beluga Endeavour (Antigua & Barbuda flag).
Meanwhile in Colombo port the ITF Inspector kept up pressure on m.v OEL Dubai (Panama flag) which is owned in Dubai and employs Indian crew. This year’s week of Action is specially targeting ships owned and or operated by companies in the UAE. Countries in this region have no culture or respect for trade unions and employ seafarers on very exploitative terms and conditions. They are known to evade legal or social responsibilities with more impunity than other FOC owners.