Criminalisation of Seafarers.

All relevant jurisdictions have criminal law which will be applicable in connection with various incidents involving vessels. Although corporate officers may be the subject of a criminal prosecution, in most cases the master of the vessel is the target as he is seen as the person ultimately responsible for the ship as well as the owners’ representative. More importantly perhaps, the master is physically present in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred, making it easy to charge and detain him.
From speech given by Frode Grotmol at the IBA (International Bar Association) Twelfth Biennial Conference on September 18, 1995.

Criminalisation of seafarers mirrors nowadays attitude to those who devoted their lives to seagoing career. Promulgation of stricter rules partly promoted by ISM and ISPS codes and partly by industry itself plus all time increasing workload and documentation abuse, all this, leave almost no room for private life and enjoyment on board such as evening bottle of beer in the smoking room or easy talk over a glass of wine at Sunday dinner.

As story goes, the life on board of modern tanker consist of 14-16 hours of work and duties, sometimes more. Remaining time dedicated to sleep and food intake - not breakfast, lunch or dinner but just food intake, when individual does not enjoy the meal but consumes it as inevitable necessity.

For comparison there is a description of life in Swedish prison:

Every prisoner has his own cell with a television airing the World Cup games for free; every six months, the prisoner gets to tour the streets of Stockholm accompanied by a police car; and the highlight – every prisoner has the right to a three-day conjugal right in a three-room luxury apartment in the prison…. The prison cell is sparkling clean, and over the weekend the prison does not serve food and each prisoner is allowed to order a variety of raw materials at a limited budget in order to fix himself a meal…. The kitchen is modern and sophisticated, like in a restaurant. In addition, the prisoners are offered a variety of activities such as football and basketball games.


One can see that life in prison in some parts of the world is at least not worse than that we live on board of seagoing vessel. Then why to be surprised that society treats us like criminals, in so far as our life has so much in common with prisoners: constant confinement, bad or tolerable food, excessive workload to keep our minds and bodies permanently occupied and high nervous tension when price of mistake is so high.

Criminalisation of Masters and Seafarers Conference

There can be no doubt, also, about the increasing trend to initiate criminal proceedings following maritime mishaps. The thinking among those who advocate such an approach must surely be that a harsh punitive climate results in a greater deterrent effect and, consequently, a reduction in the type of incidents that we are all seeking to prevent.

So that is a question why and how … and what might be an answer?

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