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US maritime unions call for Congress to support strong anti-harassment protections in new law

27 March 2024

Maritime unions in the United States, including two Nautilus Federation affiliates, have called on congressional leaders to reject any attempt to weaken the protections afforded to merchant mariners under that country's Safer Seas Act.

The Act was promulgated in 2022 to address the problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the maritime industry. It requires companies to inform the US Coast Guard if a harassment complaint is received. It also requires that companies maintain a video surveillance system with audio capability in parts of the ship.

Critics of the law are now attempting to weaken it through amendments to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2024.

One proposal would eliminate the requirement that the Coast Guard be notified of an incident or complaint, leaving the situation and any possible corrective action solely to the company.

Don Marcus, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P), and Adam Vokac, president of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), joined the leaders of several other unions in a letter to the heads of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

'It is our understanding that you and your colleagues are being asked to include provisions that would significantly weaken protections afforded to merchant mariners under the Safer Seas Act,' the unions wrote.

'Specifically, we understand that certain amendments would eliminate the current reporting and investigation requirements that arise when a mariner is subject to non-sexual harassment, thereby vesting sole responsibility to respond to such incidents within the shipping company itself.

'In addition, we are deeply concerned about pre-emptive changes affecting the
retention of video and audio recorded aboard US-flagged vessels intended to protect victims in the workplace.

'On behalf of the licensed and unlicensed American merchant mariners we represent, we strongly oppose these efforts and any such amendments that would reduce the protections and recourse available to mariners.'

'As the U.S. Coast Guard moves forward with implementing the Safer Seas Act, any statutory changes to existing reforms must not be made prematurely and done so in close consultation with maritime labor.'

'Our unions remain deeply committed to improving the culture and safety within our industry. Ultimately, every mariner must benefit from a workplace environment that is free from all forms of abuse and harassment, sexual and otherwise.'


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