A Student Perspective: Major oil tanker maritime disasters and policies

Vessels carry an estimated 90% of the world trade and seafarers are to that effect essential to international trade and the international economic and trade system. There are at least 1.2 millions seafarers worldwide and around 200,000 seafarers in the European Union. During the last century and especially after some maritime accidents like the RMS Titanic (1912) it was important for some organizations such as IMO to introduce some safety legislation not only for human lives but also for the environment. There are many conventions introduced but the most important are: Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Standards of Training and Watch keeping (STCW) and International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships  (MARPOL).

 The problems involving oil tankers concerned the carriers from the beginnings because this type of scale transport was accelerated during a very short time (1950-2005). The weather, the geographical conditions and other objective factors play an important role in maritime accidents. The real environmental catastrophes were caused by shipping accidents involving large oil tankers, with the discharged quantities exceeding most of the times the 50 000 tones, reaching sometimes even the 287,000 tones, as in the case of the Atlantic Empress tanker. The Atlantic Empress was a Greek oil tanker that was involved in two large oil spills. The spills together are the third largest oil spill on record and the largest ship-based spill. On July 19, 1979, during a tropical rainstorm, the ship collided with the Aegean Captain, off Trinidad and Tobago, spilling 287,000 metric tons of oil. The damage incurred from the collision was never completely remedied, and while being towed, the Atlantic Empress continued to spill an additional 41 million gallons (all together being 276,000 tons of crude oil) off Barbados. The Aegean Captain also spilled a large quantity of oil from her tanks. The Atlantic Empress sank in deep water and her remaining cargo solidified. The spill from the two ships fortunately never came ashore. On the contrary, the infamous Exxon Valdez spill ten years later only saw 37,000 metric tons of oil released. We can mention that many accidents that occurred in North European waters during winter time, when the weather is getting worse and the crew members are forced to sail under extremely bad weather conditions. The two biggest disasters in maritime transport are the Erika tanker accidents (1999) and Prestige (2002). From these tanks an amount of 22,000 and 20,000 tons of oil, respectively, has leaked into the sea causing immense damage to the environment, fisheries and tourism industry.

These maritime accidents were the major factor that forms MARPOL convention to appear as it is now. Despite having a well-developed framework in terms of international standards of safety at sea and maritime environmental protection – most included in conventions conducted within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) – many countries and owners continue to break the rules, thus jeopardizing the crew and the environment and benefiting from unfair competition.

Romylos Kanakaris, MA International Maritime Policy 

A Student Perspective: The Role of the Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View

Nowadays, due to the globalized world economy there are tremendous numbers of shipping companies and port operators, which in order to be competitive and decrease their selling prices push their workers beyond their limits. Therefore, many trade unions have been created in recent years aiming at defending the seafarers all over the world. Their main objectives are to assure better working and living environment for all workers and to protect their human rights. Moreover, all these unions are trying to achieve good employment rates and higher payments for everyone no matter of their nationality.

Such a union is ITF, which is an international trade union federation of transport workers’ unions created in 1896 in London, UK. It represents millions of transport workers and seafarers in more than 150 million countries. Some of the basic purposes of the union is protecting of the crew members worldwide and working for peace and social justice. Furthermore, it is one of the global union federations cooperating with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (Karavatchev 2014, p. 2).

The activities of the union can be summarized as following: representation, information, and practical solidarity. ITF promotes the seafarer interests in every country no matter of the ship’s flag they are sailing (Karavachev 2014, p.3). In my opinion, it is really hard to protect the workers everywhere in the world, because I am sure that one organization cannot solve every problem. It seems that ITF is trying to do its best by providing the mariners with good education and certificates and by training them according to the highest standards. However, we do all know that there are so many seafarers who do not have enough experience. Moreover, it is true that many seafarers have to pay a lot of money to get the necessary certificates because they do no have sufficient knowledge.

Despite these facts, such kinds of unions are extremely important for the seamen because the latter know that there is someone who is going to support them and their families without any discrimination. Furthermore, the ITF can handle the negotiations with the shipowner and any other parties if it is necessary and it does not tolerate any aggression in case the mariners are not treated as they should be; for instance, unpaid wages or lack of safe working conditions. In such cases the trade union assists and helps the mariners to deal with their problems.

Furthermore, the ITF is trying to deal with problems like maritime security and piracy. For example, one of the cases in which the trade union took action was in 2010, when the crew of the Al-Nisr Al-Saudi oil tanker was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. And in addition of the stress that the crew and their families felt because of the pirates, the shipowner did not pay the seafarers salaries for a period of two months. What was the role of ITF? The ITF was trying to negotiate with the pirates and the shipowner so as to solve the seafarers’ problems and to end the piracy (ITF Seafarers, 2010). Based on such examples, what we can easily see is that a trade union, like the ITF, has to deal with very critical situations.

Every worker in the world needs to be treated well and his/her fundamental human rights to be respected. However, we all know that there are many cases in which this was not met by the employer. Therefore, I do strongly believe that the role of trade unions like the ITF is really important based on the fact that they can protect the seafarers and their families, when they are at sea or ashore. The main aims of the ITF union are to support the transport workers throughout the world, and to negotiate with any party in situation of conflict without any discrimination or aggression. Also, it is trying to provide them good living and working conditions.


• ITF Seafarers (2014), ITF Agreements [Online]. [Accessed on 4th March 2014] Available at: http://www.itfseafarers.org/itf_agreements.cfm
• ITF Seafarers (2010), Pirates demand US$20 million to free oil tanker [Online]. [Accessed on 2nd March 2014] Available at: http://www.itfseafarers.org/al-nisr-al-saudi.cfm
• Karavatchev, R. (2014), The Role of Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View, Case Studies in Maritime Policy, Topic 7

Romina Ivanova, MA International Maritime Policy

A Student Perspective: IMO in Africa, piracy and the way forward

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the global regulating maritime organization, consisting of 170 member countries with 37 from the African region.

Piracy has increasingly threatened the maritime transport in Africa, particularly in places like the Gulf of Guinea and the Gulf of Aden.

The International Maritime Bureau indicates that piracy is on a steady decline since 2006 on a global scale. It opined that piracy attacks off the coast of Somali dropped to an all-time low of 10 attacks from January 2013 to September 2013 whereas about 70 attacks was recorded or between the same period of 2012.

This drastic drop in piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden was attributed to increased naval presence in this region and the increase in number of vessels compliance with IMO’s Best Management Practices BMP4) along the High Risk Areas (HRA) and the successful implementation of the Djibouti code of conduct which aims to enhance a regional cooperation, to eradicate, prosecute and punish criminals against ships in the region.

However, the situation is different in the Gulf of Guinea: 40 piracy attacks were recorded between January and September 2013, 132 crew members were held hostage, and 7 vessels hijacked. Pirates in this region are equally heavily armed as their counterparts in the Gulf of Aden.

The major difference between the phenomenons of piracy in both regions (arguably) is that the business module of pirates in the Gulf of Aden is attacking vessels, taking captain and crew members hostage, and then demanding for ransom from the ship company. This is to say, pirates in the Gulf of Aden are strictly after money and careless about the ship, cargo and others.

The situation is, however, different with pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. They prefer to attack vessels, usually oil tankers and scoop fuel, steal money as well as take crew hostage (in the process of stealing the fuel). They are concerned with virtually everything valuable on board the ship, cargo, money etc.

The IMO has over the years worked with west and central Africa, which lead to the creation of Maritime Organization for West and Central Africa (MOWCA). It aims to a establish an integrated coast guard network not only to fight piracy but also to curb illegal fishing and armed robbery on the sea.

The International Maritime Organization has taking series of efforts at curbing the trends of piracy in Africa. In the Gulf of Aden, piracy has been on the decline, however there have been arguments from some quarters that the reduction in pirate activities in the region is largely due to the under reporting of piracy incidents and is not exactly a true reflection of the situation.

With the various programs and training initiated by the International Maritime Organization, if African leaders can give their full cooperation and are fully aware of the consequences of allowing piracy spread like cancer throughout the continent, then there will be a decrease of piracy in the region in the next 10 years.

Eniola Ogundele, MA International Maritime Policy

A Student Perspective: The four pillars of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping and the Greek paradigm

Quality shipping means promoting the highest standards of health, safety and environment protection, with these requirements covered under the ‘International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea’ (SOLAS), the 1978 International Convention on ‘Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping’ (STCW), the ‘International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships’ (MARPOL) and the ‘Maritime Labour Convention’ (MLC). To this end, these Conventions are characterized as the four ‘pillars of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping’.

– The SOLAS constitutes the first pillar of it, while under it, ships flagged by signatory-States comply with the minimum safety standards concerning construction, equipment and operation, with Greece having ratified the Convention in 1980. At this point, it is remarkable to mention that the first SOLAS Convention was adopted on 20 January 1914 and entered into force in July 1915. The sinking of the Titanic, on 14 April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg was the catalyst for its adoption.

– The STCW for seafarers, which entered into force in 1984, sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel, on seagoing merchant ships. It is the second pillar of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping. Greece ratified the above Convention, without delay in the same year 1984.

– The MARPOL was adopted in 1973 at IMO, covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes, is characterized the third pillar of it. At this point is has to be stated that in Greece the Convention was ratified by law No 1269 in 1982.

– In 2006, ‘the 94th International Labour Conference’ adopted the MLC, with the aim to provide international standards for the world’s first genuinely global industry, ensuring decent work for seafarers around the world. Being a convention of great importance, the ‘MLC 2006’ is expected to become ‘the fourth pillar’ of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping. It has to be mentioned that Greece had deposited with the ‘International Labour Office’ the instrument of ratification of the MLC, in January 2013, thus becoming the 32nd ILO member-State and the 10th EU member-State to have ratified this Convention.

The Greek State is among those States which have ratified all four Conventions, as already described above, while due to its compliance with their regulations, it is classified among the registers with the highest quality indices. To this end, Greece is assessed by the IMO as properly implementing the STCW Convention, thus included in the so-called ‘White List’. It has to be mentioned that a State-Party that is on this list may, as a matter of policy not to accept seafarers with certificates issued by non ‘White List-countries’ for service on its ships. In addition, Greece is included in the ‘US Coast Guard’ list of ‘Fully Qualified Flag Administrations that participate in the ‘Qualship 21program’, an initiative which introduced a system of quality valuation and incentive provision for foreign-flagged ships sailing to ports in the United States. Due to this inclusion, Greek-flagged ships enjoy a series of privileges, such as a reduced number of ‘Port State Control inspections’ and the supply of quality certificates.

It is obvious that compliance with the regulations of those Conventions has helped significantly to the fact that nowadays Greece has succeeded to conserve and further strengthen the power of its fleet, achieving to own a ‘leading merchant fleet in crisis’. Since quality shipping, apart from the above, means also high commercial competitiveness, it is worthy to mention that Greek-owned fleet, in 2012, accounted for 738 ships flying the national flag, including those registered in second registers and for 2.583 ships flying foreign flags, ranking 4th in the top country merchant fleets. Its transporting capability is estimated to 224.051.881dwt tonnage, ranking 1st in the world, covering the 16,10% of the world transportation needs. 

Charris Chryssanthakopoulos, MA International Maritime Policy