Union-owned Global Mariner documents exploitation

By DON McINTOSH, Staff Reporter

For four days in March, a union-owned cargo ship parked in downtown Portland at the Willamette River seawall.

Known as the Global Mariner, it was purchased for $3 million by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and refurbished for a worldwide tour to raise public awareness of horrific conditions for the world's seafarers on what are known as "flag-of-convenience" ships.

More than 5,800 persons visisted the ship while in Portland.

In the course of an impressive tour of the ship's vast innards, visitors to the Global Mariner are treated to a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation, with interactive computer quizzes, video footage, free posters and brochures, and massive pictorial and text exhibits, all documenting the scandal of flag-of-convenience ships.

Approximately a third of the world shipping fleet consists of flag-of-convenience ships, those registered in countries with lax safety and labor regulations.

Flag-of-convenience ships are typically run by owners who perpetrate serious abuses against workers. Seafarers are often cheated out of wages; they suffer substandard accommodations and food, and they are abandoned when ships are barred from ports for safety and pollution violations.

Worst of all, they suffer high rates of serious injury and loss of life; 500 seafarers lose their lives each year; every two months a ship is lost at sea. Most of these losses are the result of a lack of maintenance and inadequate training.

To combat these abuses, the ITF has been campaigning against flag-of-convenience ships since the 1940s. Founded in 1896, the ITF is a confederation of 500 transport workers unions in 125 countries, representing 5 million workers in every branch of transport.

Fifty years ago, the top seven maritime nations, judged by the number of ships registered, were the United Kingdom, United States, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Germany and Japan. Today the top seven are Panama, Russian Federation, China, Liberia, Cyprus, Malta, and the Bahamas. Usually, the ships aren't owned in the countries they're registered in.

Antigua/Barbuda is an example of a flag-of-convenience country - with a population of 65,000, the country has 516 freight vessels registered.

Panama, considered a flag-of-convenience country by the ITF since 1958, is the worst offender, with 6,188 vessels registered, including the New Carissa, which recently grounded on the Oregon Coast.

One of the ITF's strategies to protect workers' rights on flag-of-convenience ships is to pressure shipowners to sign an ITF-acceptable agreement setting minimum standards for wages, work conditions and safety. Some 5,000 ships are covered by such agreements, about a fifth of the total flag-of-convenience fleet.

The ship, with a crew of 35, left London last July on an 18-month worldwide tour with stops at over 60 major ports. It was scheduled to be in Seattle March 30 to April 4, and Tacoma April 5-7.

April 2, 1999 issue

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