Making this industry proud to send people on ships

By send Frank Coles, Chief people Executive Officer at on Wallem Group ships

We have way too many seafarers dying in unsafe conditions, way too many seafarers committing suicide and far too many seafarers being detained in an indiscriminate manner for crimes they didn’t commit.

We have seafarers trapped in unpaid situations and unable to make it home.

So before we get high and mighty about our training programs, and before we talk about diversity, lets make it an industry where we are proud to send people out to sea.

Let’s protect those at sea, lets create a fair society and lets recognise the need to create a fair platform, while we take care of our own business. It is up to the strong to make it better for the weak and disadvantaged in our industry.

Here is another example we are dealing with as well. Fabricated evidence and ignorant government employees hell bent on a scapegoat without evidence.

Drugs found on board ships is never an easy matter to deal with. The question of whether the ship’s crew is involved or not is always one of the main points. Alongside this is also the question of whether the proper precautions were taken in the load port in South America?

With this in mind when you have a ship found with drugs on board it is important to be open and cautious as the authorities investigate. Provided they are fair and honest.

However, when you start to see what can only be described as excessive abuse of process, bullying and mental torture, you have to question whether the actions of the authorities is appropriate.

Let me set the scene. The ship arrives in South Korea from Colombia and 100kg of drugs are found in the anchor chain locker. This is as a result of a tip off from USCG.

The ship had called in Singapore for bunkers. For 6 months prior to this voyage the ship had been trading Colombia to Mexico. The crew of the ship knew of the change of orders for one week before the ship left Colombia. The crew are all from the Philippines where drug penalties are severe.

From this one might-deduce, the crew would not be involved because they would know about the change of route and warn the supplier.

You might think that the crew would know an anchor chain locker would not be the place to hide the drugs, they would get damaged, get trapped under the chain when it is hauled in. You might wonder why the USCG did not tip the Singapore authorities. Which long time sailor is going to take this risk, knowing the penalties at home? There is no evidence at this point.

The crew have from the start denied any involvement. As managers we have had a member of staff with the crew throughout.

At no time have they shown anything but open demeanor. They have cooperated at every step. The ship has left with a new crew, the old crew are being kept in a hotel in Korea.

The treatment, well judge for yourself?

At first things were relatively simple, Korean Coastguard (KCG) begun a series of questions and interviews. They gathered data from the VDR, they took photographs and they decided they were going to use a lie detector to ask questions.

But, there were three problems, the KCG had never handled a case of this size, and there was obviously a pressure to find someone whether guilty or not.

Second, the KCG lacked the knowledge or experience to understand world trade, chartering orders, ships operations and generally were ignorant of large ships and operations.

The third problem was the language barrier. The KCG knowledge of English was poor, and knowledge of Tagalog was nonexistent. The interpreters were weak and the crew were not allowed their own representation.

Then the problems began, interviews for 10-15 hours, going on until 3am, shouting and insisting someone was guilty. Telling crew if they gave someone up they could all go home.

The KCG used every dirty tactic they could and blocked any sort of representation they could Here we are now, 2 months on, nobody has been arrested, no evidence is available. Endless continuous long interviews, amateur questions of ship operations and a lack of human rights and judicial process. 5 crew members have gone home, and it is probable that more will leave tomorrow. Yet they continue to want to make up evidence.

Using a poor VDR recording every word in Tagalog that sounds like cocaine is twisted, or every English word that is a mixture of languages is supposed to be talking about the drugs. Every attempt is made to put words into the crews mouths. They ask ridiculous questions like, define a boat, a ship and a vessel? Who gives the vessel’s voyage orders? One must ask, who are these clowns?

As I said at the start, every attempt has been made to be open, to be cooperative. Yet we are two months in, with no evidence and a desperate bullying Korean Coastguard.

At what point is this attempt at finding a scapegoat going to end?

I know Koreans, I have good friends who are Koreans, and I know their justice is based on a proper rule of law, so why is the Coastguard allowed to behave in this manner?

They even took the Chief Officer to court but the judge refused to enter an arrest warrant, as there was no evidence. How can there be any difference now? How many times can they interview and try and make up evidence?

Not only was he taken to court on flimsy creative evidence, but while waiting for the judge’s decision, he was held in handcuffs and tied with rope. Note he was not under arrest.

We have to ask what country are we in? Once again the criminalization of the seafarer, and different rules apply.
Legal representation is only allowed in certain cases and KCG block every attempt at proper protection.

If someone was guilty, if they had evidence, if this was being done fairly and with proper judicial process fair enough. This is not. Korea should be ashamed of the behavior of the coastguard. Our local agents who are Koreans, are ashamed.

How long is it fair and correct to just hold people in a hotel and pull them out to interview them at leisure for hours on end?

Two months is not fair, but then this is a ship’s crew and they are from the Philippines, so almost nobody cares. It’s a disgrace.





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