The container ship Ever Given and what hides behind maritime accidents

20 Apr 2021

The blockage of the Suez Canal by the ship Ever Given made global news and highlighted some of the fragile points of global shipping. The crisis demonstrated the complexity of the industry and the issue of lack of accountability that comes from the persistent use of flags of convenience. Despite wide coverage, however, most reports failed to mention the main victims of this system – the seafarers. For years, the ETF has been calling for increased accountability in the sector and an end of the use of flags of convenience that offer very little protection of seafarers’ rights as well as health and safety.

Below, we share ETF affiliate FSC-CCOO’s reflection on the situation. We join their call for an investigation into the causes of the blockage and stronger protections of seafarers.

On 23rd March, the seas and oceans of the world became news for global media because one single ship, out of the thousands that sail and supply goods and services to humanity, ended up wedged across the Suez Canal. The cargo ship Ever Given, one of the largest (400 metres long, 79,500 hp engines and capacity for over 20,000 containers), blocked the passage for any other ships in both directions of the canal.

The consequences of the Ever Given’s accident in the Suez Canal – a navigable canal with a strategic nature which enables to considerably shorten the route between Asia and Europe by avoiding circumnavigating the African continent – were seen by the public opinion as another economic disaster added to the distressed economic situation derived from the pandemic. The ship, property of a Japanese company, chartered by the Taiwanese company Evergreen and with the German company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement in charge of its technical function, is Panamanian-flagged and crewed by Indians.

After the ship has been refloated and the canal is back to normal, the proliferation of multimillion-dollar lawsuits brought by those who consider themselves affected by this Suez Canal crisis will not take long to be seen. And, in the meantime, some will end up holding the captain responsible for what happened, firing him and accusing him with chicanery, as we know has occurred in many accidents at sea. For example, in Spain, this happened with the captain of the Prestige.

CCOO demands the guarantees of an agile and truthful investigation of the accident to be established immediately. The participation of the International Maritime Organization must not be limited to regulating and approving the rules, but to demand compliance with them from all States that flag vessels and especially those whose flags are exclusively of convenience to keep shipowners from abiding by the law. If anyone believes that Panama is going to investigate what happened in “its” ship, they clearly don’t know the mechanisms set up in international maritime transport.

The crews of ships that ensure maritime trade are the weakest and more exploited link of the first globalised sector on the planet. The International Labour Organization’s efforts have been and continue to be enormous to regulate the work conditions of seafarers under the liabilities and entanglement of the flag States, of the States of the ports the ships sail into and the States of the workforce. The Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 has constituted a framework of immeasurable value for promoting the dignity of work at sea. But it is not enough in the face of the greed and opportunism of those who use all the loopholes to keep the world’s seafarers from being workers with labour rights through the use of convenience flags.

For all this, from FSC-CCOO, we pursue an exhaustive investigation with all the guarantees of the Ever Given’s accident. The investigation of the causes and conclusions of the research are the guarantee that accidents like this one will not happen again. To shoot against the captains, criminalise seafarers, and hide the exploitation that surrounds maritime transport while crews are made smaller and safety conditions aboard ships are reduced to a minimum is unacceptable behaviour for us.

The criminalisation of seafarers also takes place when, like in the European Union’s case, there is an intention of keeping the European men and women who work at sea from being included in the European rules and directives like the rest of the workers. A responsible look at what happened with the Ever Given forces us to take note of what really goes on in maritime transport.

Cristian Castaño

Manager of Merchant Marine Affaires

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