Seafarer hassles in ports

Jun 25 2020

Should the industry publish port corruption assessments?

I recommend you watch this 15 minute video from the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) in Cardiff, released in February 2020, about the hassles seafarers are still getting in ports around the world.


Pilots demanding fine liqueurs, officials stealing chicken from freezers, deliveries of stores being blocked to ships who refuse to give bribes and cappuccino bunker deliveries.


All issues familiar to Tanker Operator readers, but seeing seafarers speak on video about their experience makes the stories much more impactful than statistics in a report.


As we hear, the worst aspect may be loss of agency seafarers suffer. Nobody likes being forced to do something which they know is wrong.


We see seafarers are squeezed between corrupt officials who give them no option but to comply with bribe requests, and shipowners who say that the company's policy is not to give bribes. So their only way out might be to pay from personal funds.


One problem, which might be described as “facilitation gift giving”, has been seen by 59% of seafarers visiting Suez Canal ports. Other hotspots included South East Asia (55%), China (54%), Indian subcontinent (51%), West Africa (49%). But it had been seen by only 13% of seafarers visiting EU ports. 


A majority of respondents (57%) believed the practice of demanding/giving facilitation gifts was increasing. Sometimes port officials demand cash from  captains.


Whilst many companies allowed captains to distribute gifts, sometimes up to a particular  value without accounting for them, they tended to have a very different approach when it came to attempts to extort cash from vessels.


69% of seafarers stated that they had  experienced being on a ship when shore officials asked for cash. The most common regions where this kind of extortion occurred were West Africa (32%), South East Asia  (30%), Indian subcontinent (28%), Suez Canal (22%) and China (22%).


In contrast, extortion  relating to cash demands had hardly ever been experienced by seafarers calling at EU ports (3%) and  had only been experienced in Turkey by 7% of respondents.


Helen Sampson, director of SIRC, says the researchers were wary of naming specific ports, because she believes the best pathway to improving the situation is to encourage individuals working in these ports, and their management, to better understand that these are not victimless crimes. Making specific accusations might provoke defensive behaviour, which would not be constructive, she says.


But here’s an idea – could the maritime industry as a whole, perhaps through one of its shipowner bodies, or just the oil / tanker associations, start publishing more data, or scoring ports or entire countries, perhaps keeping it more objective and anonymised, along the lines of the World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) index of country corruption? The objective could be to  get the data taken seriously by charterers and used as part of their decision making, so they can stop shipping cargo via corrupt ports if they possibly can.


Oil companies are taking a bigger interest in human factors onboard, recognising that stress levels can have a big impact on safety. And it is easy to see how shore based corruption raises the stress level.


Is there a way that the marine departments of oil companies, who have deep maritime competence and are often staffed by ex-seafarers, could put pressure on oil company trading departments to use ports which have a lower reputation for corruption.


For example by showing that their decisions lead to seafarers being put under higher stress, which may lead to accidents, which would reflect very badly on the oil company, and the trader that made the decision to use that port?


TMSA, arguably, works in this fashion, although to help discriminate against vessels, not ports.

The marine experts in oil companies needed a tool to demonstrate that although a vessel was fully compliant with regulations, it offered very little beyond that – while another vessel was also available which offered much more, and so should be preferentially chartered.


The full SIRC report can be downloaded at


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