Nautilus has called on the government to address the decline of the British shipping industry and the conditions of 'modern-day slavery' that exist on some vessels operating around the country's coast.
Proposing a motion to this year's Congress, senior national secretary Ronnie Cunningham warned that conditions on some ships are worse than they were 250 years ago. He quoted the case of the Panama-flagged cargoship Tahsin, presently detained in Sharpness Docks with a crew owed three months of wages. They were forced to drink sea water and eat out-of-date food because the Turkish owners had failed to provide provisions for the ship.
Such ships are presenting unfair competition to British ships and seafarers and the British shipping industry could face terminal decline unless effective action is taken by the government to address the problems, Mr Cunningham argued.
In the space of a generation, we've gone from having an owned and registered fleet of more than 1,600 ships to just 452 last year. Ronnie Cunningham
'Sixty years ago, the UK merchant fleet amounted to 18% of world tonnage. Today, it's 0.8%. Forty years ago, there were almost 90,000 British seafarers. Today, it's just 23,000 and with more than half of them over the age of 45 and with recruitment into the industry at less than half the level needed, those numbers are set to fall by a further third over the next decade.'
Mr Cunningham said there was a glimmer of hope in 2015, when the government's own Maritime Growth Study came up with 18 recommendations that would 'keep Britain as a great maritime nation'. Sadly, nothing of substance had materialised since then and the government needed to translate its warm words of support for the industry into practical action, he added.
Seconding the motion, William Jones of RMT claimed Britain's merchant fleet was 'dying on its feet'. A seafarer of 40 years' experience, he claimed: 'It's getting worse week by week, month by month, even day by day.'
The motion was passed unanimously.