Turkish authorities have detained four Ukrainian nationals without charge for more than seven months. So naturally, seafarers’ unions are incredibly concerned.
In July last year, with the officials on board the MSC Capucine R at Iskenderun, Turkey, the authorities broke the custom seal of the container. It revealed 176kgs of cocaine inside. The master and three crew were arrested and taken to a nearby prison following their claims about the illegal hoarding.
With the help of the union and employer advocacy, the accused seafarers were released on bail in August. They are now to await charges and trials. But, with accusations still hanging over them, they are blocked from leaving Turkey.
The union, representing the seafarers, is concerned that Turkish officials are targeting them instead of the criminals. Furthermore, the association affirms it to be improbable that the seafarers knew about the drugs. The containers are sealed at the originating port before being loaded into the vessel. It can only be unsealed at the destination port. Hence, the crew remains unaware of the contents on board, let alone access them.
Employers, Unions working for seafarers’ access to Justice
The arrest of the employees has come as a shock to their employers and the seafarers’ union. MSC is among the two largest container ship operators in the world. Shifting about 23 million containers, it serves more than 500 locations every year.
The International Transport Worker’s Federation (ITF), the Turkish-based affiliate unions (TDS), and the Ukrainian Seafarer’s Union are demanding the seafarers face court on charges or be released.
Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the IFT, states the need for the Turkish officials to put up evidence against the seafarers. If they haven’t any, they should consider releasing them.
Irfan Mete, President of TDS, expresses his concern over his country’s reputation. “We don’t want Turkey to be a place where crewmen are fearful of calling into”, he added.
The MTWTU chairman, Oleg Grygoruik, stresses the fact of international solidarity. Criminalizing the seafarers for doing their job isn’t justified. He added his gratitude towards everyone working for just outcomes for the seafarers.
The families of the detained official are worried about the fate of their husbands and fathers.
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Criminalization and the threats it poses-
The incident of south-eastern Turkey is part of a much bigger picture- criminalization. The criminalization trend has risen globally. Seafarers argue that they have been targeted by law enforcement worldwide, even without evidence. The law enforcement officials cannot bring down the natural powers behind crimes like drug trafficking and blame the seafarers. There are incidents where they are accused when they report illegal cargo on board.
David Heindel, IFT’s Seafarer’s’ Section chair, claims that innocent seafarers are always accused when local officials need someone to blame.
Criminalization occurs when seagoing officials are detained or punished for criminal offences, and local authorities allege that the seafarer is guilty. Being ‘criminalized’ means being denied due process. After being detained from work, the criminalized seafarers must wait to hear the charges and court order, which is extremely slow. Till then, they have poor access to bail with inadequate legal support available. When held in jail, seafarers are vulnerable with no fair treatment.
A swift justice system is needed in such cases in every country. We need the courts and the police authorities to take decisions in a few hours or days rather than weeks or months. Their actions are unjust as ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.
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