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It's time to focus on flag growth and tonnage tax review

21 September 2020

It's high time the UK completes its review of tonnage tax to support the flag growth and guarantee seafarer skills, says Mark Dickinson

With just three months to go until the end of the transition period, and a deadline of the end of October for a deal with the European Union, I am reminded of what is at stake for our maritime professionals.

With our partners at Maritime UK we have reconfirmed our belief that it is critical for the UK and the EU to agree a future trade deal before the end of the transition period on 31 December.

This position is supported by the entire trade union movement here and in Europe, and by the business community too. Parliament has voted several times against leaving the EU without securing the relationship.

The government must come good on its promises that we can thrive outside of the EU. The British people expect a future that builds on the strengths of the UK economy. As an island nation reliant on shipping for 95% of everything, that must include a commitment to grow the maritime sector and rebuild our seafarer skills base.

One of the areas that remains unclear is the situation for maritime professionals working on ships registered in EU member states – according to the European Commission that could be as many as 4,000 UK officers. At the beginning of September, then maritime minister Kelly Tolhurst said the UK government was working towards a solution for the acceptance of UK Certificates of Competency after 31 December, but acknowledged that further work was needed. We have also raised this with our colleagues at the European Transport Workers' Federation, who are also lobbying the member states to ensure UK certificates will continue to be recognised.

Meanwhile, the UK continues to issue Certificates of Equivalent Competency to any officer who seeks to work on UK flagged vessels – that is over 11,000 officers, according to the latest government figures.

The government must safeguard the employment of UK maritime professionals here and abroad, especially in the EU. UK officers are higher cost but their employment on foreign flags proves that their skills and experience are in demand. We can set higher standards for those seeking employment in our waters while seeking to protect jobs for our seafarers abroad.

We have welcomed the UK government's post-transition points-based immigration system with its minimum salary requirements. Together with the extension of the national minimum wage, this should help reduce social dumping in our waters and from our ports to the continental shelf. The government must ensure these policies deliver employment for UK seafarers by enforcing them and also look to extend the measures through bilateral discussion with our neighbours.

State aid could also be impacted by a failure to secure a UK-EU trade deal. The government must review its state aid regime to ensure it both delivers its original aims and remains attractive to shipowners.

The vast majority of UK owned tonnage is not registered in the UK. Far more Dutch shipowners choose to fly the Dutch flag and avail themselves of state aid, which includes 100% of the costs of training Dutch seafarers and a job guarantee at the end of their training. In the UK we are half-hearted in our support for the flag and for UK seafarers. We don't need to go to exotic locations in search of new ideas to entice shipowners. We have enough home-grown tonnage and best practice on our own doorstep.

Neither do we need to deregulate our employment, food and environmental standards to attract business. But the lessons of history show that shipowners will not train enough seafarers in return for positive measures unless compelled to do so. More carrot is needed but it must come with some stick too.

Existing measures such as the Seafarers Earnings Deduction, SMarT and the core training commitment are essential components of the UK's positive measures for shipping.

However, the much talked about government review of tonnage tax must now surely be top of the new minister's in-tray. When he gets to it, I hope he will look to ensure it supports outcomes in the national interest and underpins our maritime resilience.

The lessons of history show that shipowners will not train enough seafarers in return for positive measures unless compelled to do so Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson
From the general secretary January 2020

Corrosive flags of convenience have undermined national flags, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson. We must support flag states that exercise effective control.

As we start the new year, we recommit to being an action-focused, modern and dynamic union, driven by a clear organising strategy, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson

As we enter a new decade in which disruption is the name of the game and technology transforms our world, shipping is at the centre of the evolving storm.

The industry is at the heart of our globalised just-in-time economy. Every hour of every day, thousands of vessels are on the oceans and rivers connecting countries and keeping global trade moving. But while shipping's importance remains unchanged, the way it works – and the ways in which its people work – are facing transformation.

Nautilus International has worked long and hard on our four-year Strategic Plan and 2030 Vision adopted at the General Meeting in October 2019. It puts in place a proactive response to ensure that we remain relevant, responsive and financially sustainable for the future.

This year will be critical for the delivery of this vision. We are focused on developing new ways of working, new ways of organising, new ways of campaigning, and new ways of servicing our members that demonstrate our continued relevance.

We will keep our organisation at the cutting edge, responding to globalisation's challenges with, for example, the Nautilus Federation of like-minded ITF affiliated unions providing a worldwide support and assistance network based on cooperation and collaboration.

We look to the future with optimism, but we face a double whammy. The demographics of our membership mean that around one-third of our members will reach retirement age over the next decade. Despite the renewed investment in skills in the UK and NL the numbers coming into the shipping industry are falling short of the numbers leaving. It's very clear that we can't continue as we are. If that sounds stark, it's meant to.

The 2030 Vision is our response – a positive vision for the future based not on fear of the unknown, but a clear track of hope. Because we don't just face risks and challenges, we also face opportunities, and we are determined to seize them.

Our 2030 Vision will strengthen our recruitment efforts, continuing our growth in the superyacht and windfarm sectors, capitalising on the potential in inland waterways and river cruises and seizing the opportunities offered in fishing, through the new ILO Convention 188.

Our 2030 Vision will transform the way we work – we will relaunch Nautilus as an action-focused, modern and dynamic union and professional organisation, driven by a clear organising strategy, that is innovative, creative and, above all, proactive and professional.

The 2030 Vision is our blueprint for the future – a sustainable future that ensures that the scale of the challenges faced by Nautilus is matched by the scale of its ambition. Nautilus is proud to say that Wherever You Are So Are We. That will continue to be but we will also focus greater efforts on supporting you throughout your career journey in a positive and aspirational way.

Happy New Year!

 

From the general secretary February 2020

A long term vision is needed if the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is to become a 'passport to decent work for seafarers', says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson, who is also a vice-chair of the International Transport Workers' Federation Seafarers' Section. He discusses some strategies for improvements to the upcoming MLC amendments on living and working condition due to come into force later this year

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) has now been ratified by 96 countries, representing 91% of the world fleet by gross tonnage, and there are good prospects of reaching 100 signatories soon.

The MLC has been a remarkable success and truly is the fourth pillar of global regulation alongside STCW, SOLAS and MARPOL.

In around 12 months I will be attending the 4th meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Special Tripartite Committee (STC). This is the committee provided for in Article XIII of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (as amended) that is charged with developing amendments so that seafarers’ living and working conditions are continuously improved. So far three sets of amendments have been agreed in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – the latter will come into force in December this year.

In my capacity as one of the vice-chairs of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Section I have been asked to act as the spokesperson for the Seafarers’ Group at the STC meeting.

If confirmed in due course, it will be my task to put forward the views of the seafarer unions and to engage in negotiations with the shipowner and government groups to hopefully agree further amendments to the MLC. Work has begun with discussions both at ITF and jointly between ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

I have been advocating for a longer-term vision and a strategy for improvements to the MLC. At the heart of the convention is an understanding that minimum standards must be enhanced. The MLC has always been a journey not a destination, ‘a passport to decent work for seafarers’ as Nautilus honorary member Dr Cleo Doumbia-Henry has said.

It is the obligation of all those associated with the MLC to advance the current minimum standards, but we need to know where we want to be in 10, 20 and 30 years and beyond.

It is therefore time for the tripartite parties to focus on truly enhancing seafarer protection so that the MLC becomes ever more meaningful and appreciated by seafarers.

One of the improvements Nautilus will be calling for is to the working and rest hour regimes. Why are seafarers still working over 90 hours per week when technological advances could potentially reduce workloads to much more manageable levels?

Instead of improving the work life balance for seafarers, I can anticipate many shipowners arguing that technological advances will deliver cost savings through reduced numbers of seafarers onboard, leaving those who remain to continue working outrageously long hours. The current fad for ‘wellbeing’ to be addressed by introducing awareness training is not a silver bullet but ending the deeply engrained culture of long working hours surely is.

It is also time for greater powers to enforce the ILO minimum wage.

Currently contained in Code B and non-mandatory, the minimum wage should be made enforceable alongside the existing and fundamental right of seafarers to engage in collective bargaining. This would be entirely consistent with the United Nations Sustainability Goals (specifically #8) for which so many politicians and chief executives trumpet their support. With the current focus on corporate social responsibility this is the least we should expect.

There is much talk in maritime circles about what the future will look like as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds. It is high time that the human element – the seafarer – was the forethought and not constantly playing catchup. Only then will we all be able to create more and better jobs in a sustainable shipping industry.

From the general secretary March 2020

With the world in the midst of a global health pandemic, general secretary Mark Dickinson expresses concern about the impact on the shipping industry and calls for special measures to protect seafarers.

In the 1930s, the MP Lady Nancy Astor suggested to the UK parliament that seafarers should be compelled to wear yellow armbands when ashore to warn others they were potential carriers of venereal disease.

One would like to think the world has moved on since then, but sadly the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus has once again seen seafarers bearing the brunt of this global pandemic. We have already witnessed ships being denied entry to port, shore leave being denied, crew changes prohibited, pre-employment screening of seafarers, and flag states requesting exemptions from the strict requirements of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) so that crew can be denied repatriation. Worryingly, some of these actions are in breach of international conventions on human rights and the facilitation of maritime traffic.

I cannot recall a time when such an unexpected development has resulted in such frenetic activity, bordering upon panic, across the entire world. As the list of countries with outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus grows longer by the day, the numbers of confirmed infections spiral by the hour. And with an escalating rate of morbidity in excess of 3% of those infected, this alarm is surely justified.

I am genuinely concerned about the impact on seafarers and their ability to work, join and leave their ships. Reports of the selfless action of crews on vessels such as the Dutch-registered Westerdam and the UK-registered Diamond Princess – which have many Nautilus members onboard – left me feeling humbled.

Such huge cruise ships, each with thousands of passengers and hundreds of crew members in lockdown, in a medical emergency that ultimately, in the case of the Diamond Princess, led to the reported deaths of six passengers. It is hard to imagine what it would be like for all concerned, not least for the maritime professionals who continue to do their duty in such harrowing circumstances.

These developments remind me of last month’s comment about the MLC, because it stipulates a 12-month maximum tour of duty, reduced to 11 months onboard as a seafarer is entitled to paid annual leave to be taken within the year. That standard, and the experience of the response to viral outbreaks at sea, must now surely be considered in any forward-looking strategy to improve the MLC.

While it is good to see the International Labour Organisation and the International Chamber of Shipping producing guidelines that underline the need to prioritise the health and safety of crew, the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on our members and the shipping industry is growing by the day.

Global trade is slowing, events, meetings, conferences are being cancelled and all but essential travel is cut. Travel restrictions are being placed on over-70s.

All of this is having a devastating impact on the ferry and cruise sectors, raising serious questions about the impact on the jobs of our members. Business as usual is most definitely not on the agenda for now and the immediate future, but any response by governments much be measured, targeted and not
damage the industry or jeopardise the employment of our members.

With 90% of everything moving by sea to do so would be an act of utmost folly.

Seafarers as ever will be among those facing the consequences of this pandemic as one thing has not changed over the centuries: germs follow people, people follow trade and facilitating trade is our business.

The critical role of seafarers needs to be recognised and special measures introduced now to ensure the shipping industry can continue to keep the world moving. That must include reassurances over job security, extra medical protection and testing and the facilitation of crew rotation and repatriation.

And let’s not forget amid all this frenetic activity that the rights of seafarers under international conventions must be respected.

From the general secretary April 2020

With the world in the midst of a global health pandemic, general secretary Mark Dickinson expresses concern about the impact on the shipping industry and calls for special measures to protect seafarers

In the 1930s, the MP Lady Nancy Astor suggested to the UK parliament that seafarers should be compelled to wear yellow armbands when ashore to warn others they were potential carriers of venereal disease.

One would like to think the world has moved on since then, but sadly the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus has once again seen seafarers bearing the brunt of this global pandemic. We have already witnessed ships being denied entry to port, shore leave being denied, crew changes prohibited, pre-employment screening of seafarers, and flag states requesting exemptions from the strict requirements of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) so that crew can be denied repatriation. Worryingly, some of these actions are in breach of international conventions on human rights and the facilitation of maritime traffic.

I cannot recall a time when such an unexpected development has resulted in such frenetic activity, bordering upon panic, across the entire world. As the list of countries with outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus grows longer by the day, the numbers of confirmed infections spiral by the hour. And with an escalating rate of morbidity in excess of 3% of those infected, this alarm is surely justified.

I am genuinely concerned about the impact on seafarers and their ability to work, join and leave their ships. Reports of the selfless action of crews on vessels such as the Dutch-registered Westerdam and the UK-registered Diamond Princess – which have many Nautilus members onboard – left me feeling humbled.

Such huge cruise ships, each with thousands of passengers and hundreds of crew members in lockdown, in a medical emergency that ultimately, in the case of the Diamond Princess, led to the reported deaths of six passengers. It is hard to imagine what it would be like for all concerned, not least for the maritime professionals who continue to do their duty in such harrowing circumstances.

These developments remind me of last month’s comment about the MLC, because it stipulates a 12-month maximum tour of duty, reduced to 11 months onboard as a seafarer is entitled to paid annual leave to be taken within the year. That standard, and the experience of the response to viral outbreaks at sea, must now surely be considered in any forward-looking strategy to improve the MLC.

While it is good to see the International Labour Organisation and the International Chamber of Shipping producing guidelines that underline the need to prioritise the health and safety of crew, the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on our members and the shipping industry is growing by the day.

Global trade is slowing, events, meetings, conferences are being cancelled and all but essential travel is cut. Travel restrictions are being placed on over-70s.

All of this is having a devastating impact on the ferry and cruise sectors, raising serious questions about the impact on the jobs of our members. Business as usual is most definitely not on the agenda for now and the immediate future, but any response by governments much be measured, targeted and not damage the industry or jeopardise the employment of our members.

With 90% of everything moving by sea to do so would be an act of utmost folly.

Seafarers as ever will be among those facing the consequences of this pandemic as one thing has not changed over the centuries: germs follow people, people follow trade and facilitating trade is our business.

The critical role of seafarers needs to be recognised and special measures introduced now to ensure the shipping industry can continue to keep the world moving. That must include reassurances over job security, extra medical protection and testing and the facilitation of crew rotation and repatriation.

And let’s not forget amid all this frenetic activity that the rights of seafarers under international conventions must be respected.

From the General Secretary May 2020

One of the issues that has been driven home during the global pandemic is that seafarers are an invisible force to most ordinary people. Frankly, some politicians don’t seem to be able to see them either.

It was short sighted to lock out or lock in the workers who are responsible for bringing 90% of everything that is needed to sustain us. The pandemic has revealed how exposed many nations are to how the shipping industry is structured. Our resilience as nations has been shaken by this crisis.

The pandemic has highlighted the failings of the ship registration, crewing and employment policies of way too many shipowners. Flag states from the more exotic locations have failed to provide support, offshore employment contracts and labour supply policies have exposed the weaknesses of the current system. It all looks a mess and to make matters worse we even have some shipowners exploiting the pandemic to attack our members' terms and conditions of employment.

If any good can come of this global health pandemic, when we return to normal, we must have a thorough and comprehensive review of the structure of our shipping industry and its employment practices. Covid-19 has revealed how utterly unprepared the shipping industry was, and we cannot allow that to happen again.

All of that is for another day. Throughout this crisis I have remained immensely proud of our members – maritime and shipping professionals, for how they have demonstrated their fortitude and professionalism. They really do ‘supply the world’ to coin one of the welcome hashtags doing the rounds on social media that has highlighted their key worker status. To quote another, #notallsuperheroeswearcapes. Of course, that one is from Nautilus, it is my favourite!

I looked up in my dictionary the definition of a professional. It states simply 'a person engaged or qualified in a profession' but I believe it is so much more than just the recognition of status or qualifications. To me it is a state of mind as much it is a recognition of hard fought for qualifications. It is how you go about the tasks you are trained and qualified to perform.

Our members deliver 90% of everything globally and run the lifeline services that support our communities. We know they do it without any thanks or recognition. That’s got to change. Your professionalism must not be taken for granted, certainly not by governments.

During the current outbreak, thankfully many countries declared that seafarers are key workers, and this has helped highlight the vital role that our members perform.

They cannot work from home – although they are used to remote working in an isolated workplace. They work until the job is done, safely and to the highest standards. They are now being required to extend their tours because their replacements cannot join their vessels. Governments must ensure that this is a short-term measure and they need to urgently turn their attention to getting crew changes moving again. Taking our members’ professionalism for granted would be a mistake.

It has been my honour in the past month to join with my neighbours every Thursday evening to praise from my front door with my family, our vital public sector workers. But I have also been cheering and clapping for my #transportheroes – our seafarers and all maritime professionals alongside all the other key workers who are demonstrating their professionalism and ensuring we are all safe and well during this unprecedented and frankly scary time.

Once this pandemic has passed, and it will, Nautilus and all its staff will continue to fight for our members to be given the recognition that they deserve.

Recognition that befits the professionalism they have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate. To #myheroes, thank you.

From the general secretary June 2020

In the face of dire long-term economic warnings, it is now more important than ever to work together for the benefit of all, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson

The true scale of the economic damage that Covid-19 has done to global and national economies is becoming clear.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is forecasting a 32% decline in global output and that means lost jobs. According to a recent survey by the European Community Shipowners' Associations the hardest hit sectors will be cruise, ferry and offshore services – key areas for our members.

In shipping we are facing hundreds of jobs losses – from Ardent Maritime to P&O Ferries to Vroon – the impact is being felt by our members across all branches. The scale of potential job losses is significant – over 600 redundancies have been announced in the past month alone.

These jobs are not for sale. We must be robust in our response, ensure that our members are supported and redundancies resisted. I have asked our industrial teams to do their utmost to protect the employment of our members wherever they can.

The support of a strong trade union is especially important at times like now. It may be a cliché, but we are stronger together and we certainly need to be strong now. It is pleasing therefore that membership is growing with hundreds of maritime professionals recognising the need for our unique services.

I have been continuing my support for the work of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF). This has focused on coordinating crew welfare, working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on seafarers' rights and taking part in discussions with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to agree crew change protocols. These were immediately supported by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and quickly circulated for attention by member states.

I have taken part in talks between ITF and the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) within the International Bargaining Forum (IBF). The ITF had previously reluctantly agreed to two 30-day periods of crew contract extensions under the IBF Framework Agreement but when asked for a third time we refused. Instead, we said governments should be given an extra 30 days to implement crew changes in accordance with the industry protocols circulated by IMO. This should mean governments finally get crew changes moving and recognise that seafarers are key workers who deserve to get home or back to work.

I have also been busy lobbying the government to extend financial support to UK seafarers. A survey of UK members of Nautilus revealed that up to 11,000 seafarers could be without financial support because their employer does not operate UK PAYE for tax and national insurance purposes. As such their jobs cannot be protected under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) nor will they receive grants to cover lost income under the self-employed scheme. Some face a triple whammy because they can't work, cannot claim the same financial support as other UK workers, and face an unexpected tax bill.

Last month with the help of TAPiit we live streamed the first virtual meeting of the Council. The use of technology is a core strand of the Union's 2030 Vision as is our communications becoming 'digital first'. This has enabled us to respond to developments much quicker than in the past. Our website has become the main source of information for our members, and the wider maritime community. In the current pandemic we are witnessing unprecedented traffic to our site. One story on seafarer certificates for travel was viewed over 42,000 times.

This investment in technology has had the added benefit of allowing us to keep working in support of our members despite the challenges of the lockdown. It has also helped us to have a greater and more frequent contact with governments and industry to resolve issues in a tripartite way.

I hope this spirit of tripartism continues long after the lockdown ends, when we return to normal. In the meantime, stay safe.

From the general secretary July 2020

The unfolding crew change crisis has exposed deep inconsistencies from governments keen to kickstart economies while seafarers remain trapped onboard, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.

The deadline for the effective implementation of crew changes, in accordance with agreed protocols developed by the industry and endorsed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), has passed. 15 June was the day set by the industry for governments to have implemented those protocols and get our seafarers safely home and their replacements back to work.

There are signs that crew changes are taking place especially in Europe, and I am pleased that the UK and the Netherlands are leading the way. However, like the fairground game of 'whack a mole', as one country loosens its lockdown another tightens it as the virus spreads in a wave across the globe. And of course the dire warnings of a second wave are on the minds of those charged with formulating their national policy responses to Covid-19.

But, as some countries look to kickstart their economies, it feels like getting tourism going via international air bridges is more important to other governments than getting seafarers home. As a recent article in Lloyd's List noted, this is 'morally unacceptable' and the ongoing isolation of seafarers 'inhumane'.

The unfolding crisis is at long last grabbing the media's interest. The unfortunate and deeply saddening reports of suicides and hunger strikes, and the potential threat of crew strikes, have finally woken people to the inconvenient truth that the world relies on seafarers for 90% of everything. It feels far from alarmist to warn we could soon see empty shelves in our supermarkets and queues at petrol stations.

I am proud to say that Nautilus is playing a key part in the global mobilisation. The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is standing by with its worldwide network of inspectors to support crews who refuse to extend their contracts further.

Nautilus and 21 other ITF-affiliated unions called on our members to exercise their professional judgement in the interests of safety. The International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA) followed Nautilus taking the unprecedented step of sending a Notice to all Shipmasters calling on them to register their complaints ashore with the authorities and shipowner in line with the Maritime Labour Convention and International Safety Management Code.

If those complaints are not resolved, IFSMA was clear, shipmasters should refuse to sail their ships; for if they did not, and there was an incident, they may face criminalisation by the very same authorities that block crew changes.

The level and the extent of the outrage does not end there. The leaders of the United Nations, the IMO and the ILO have all been unequivocal in their support for seafarers and in their demand that states facilitate safe crew changes immediately to relieve the horrors unfolding onboard ships globally. The line between denial of workers' rights and forced labour is a fine one.

This is an unprecedented moment. As David Osler in Lloyd's List wrote, 'There are many lessons to be learnt from this unprecedented episode. But perhaps the biggest one is that crews should never again be made to carry the can for the shockingly apparent global collective paralysis of the authorities.'

The major flag states, most of which are flags of convenience (FOC), have shown how the abuse of the ship registration system has undermined the governance and structure of the industry. These states' lack of responsibility or ability to fulfil their obligations under the current system has been brutally exposed by the pandemic.

Let's build on the consensus we have forged in this time of crisis and bring this FOC system down. We should rebuild shipping with the priority on support for bona fide flag states that take their responsibilities and obligations under international law seriously and are able to effectively regulate shipping and protect seafarers and the environment.

From the general secretary August 2020

We must uphold and enhance high standards and protect the integrity of our maritime education and training, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.

Last month I was invited to become a Commissioner on the Maritime Skills Commission (MSC). Led by Professor Graham Baldwin, Vice Chancellor at the University of Central Lancashire, it is made up of leading figures covering the five sectors of the UK’s maritime industry.

The MSC was set up as part of the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy to understand the skills needs of the maritime sector and ensure that skills shortages and skills gaps are addressed.

I want to give voice to the needs of maritime professionals and make sure that the sector's skills requirements are fully understood and addressed for the future. I want to promote examples of best practice such as the Netherlands, where the strategy is to deliver outcomes for the maritime cluster and shipowners are loyal to the flag. The Netherlands is also firmer on its training and employment commitments which, in my view, offers a very useful insight into the UK's shortcomings.

There has been a long and sustained decline of our seagoing workforce which has led to pressure on employment in the maritime cluster. Over the past 40 years, the number of British officers and ratings has fallen by around two-thirds. Consistent under-recruitment means the total is predicted to fall a further 30% within the next decade.

The government’s own statistics show that almost one-third of British masters and nearly 20% of chief engineer officers are aged 60 or over. Since the 1980s – when the cadet intake slumped to less than 100 in one year – there have been a series of studies which have shown the numbers needed to avert a long-term skills shortage, based on analysis of companies and services which deem maritime expertise essential or highly desirable. Most of these estimate a target figure of between 1,000 and 1,650 cadets annually – significantly below the average intakes of the past 25 years.

The MSC's first stated objective is to 'understand the skills needs of the sector, including the effects of technological change, and to make recommendations for action'. Nautilus is part of the four-year EU SkillSea project, which is investigating ways to 'future-proof' the training of European maritime professionals. This work is highly relevant, and its findings will undoubtedly help us ensure the maritime sector has the skills, training and qualifications it needs as technology transforms operating practices and the world increasingly demands clean maritime growth.

There is plenty of evidence to support the strong case for seafarer training and the benefits to the wider maritime cluster, including a succession of Parliamentary reports, independent research and government-commissioned studies. It is critical that these studies do not gather dust, but that their accumulated evidence is put to best use.

We must not discard our current policy interventions aimed at boosting maritime skills, such as SMarT and the core training commitment linked to the Tonnage Tax. These provide a solid base on which to build a better future, but we must be prepared to review and enhance these and all related government policies to ensure they continue to deliver and support the objectives of the Maritime 2050 strategy.

There is also a need to review and modernise the UK's cadet training programme. Our goal must be to enhance training and employment of officer trainees. In doing so we must also remember there is a very good reason why our seafarers are held in such high regard internationally and remain in demand. We must not allow the drive for change and modernisation to undermine that which differentiates us from the competition.

We must uphold and enhance high standards and do everything to protect the reputation and integrity of our maritime education and training. There is a lot that we do very well, but that should not stop us doing better and offering a better experience. For the future of our maritime professionals and the wider maritime sector.

From the general secretary September 2020

This month [September 2020], full members will receive information about the 2021 Nautilus elections.

These are important elections, the building blocks of our member led democracy and governance, and include the opportunity for members across our diverse family to stand for the Council.

The global crew change crisis worsens, despite a well-intended UK initiative to galvanise key governments to act. Over 300,000 seafarers are effectively being forced to work way beyond the maximum time permissible under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). It is of profound sadness to me that governments continue to flout their obligations to our seafarers. We will need to bring these governments to account, however long it takes.

In Lebanon, we witnessed the shocking explosion in the Port of Beirut. I hope a thorough investigation is conducted to discover the root causes. The authorities seem to have been shockingly complacent and failed to heed warnings about cargo stored in the port.

It seems clear too how the ammonium nitrate got there, but how was it possible that the M/V Rhosus and its crew were abandoned and the alleged Russian owner able to walk away? Why was Moldova the flag state of a Russian-owned, Cypriot based company? These are some of the essential questions that need an answer if we are to truly understand the circumstances that led to this tragedy and learn any lessons.

In Mauritius,an emergency has been declared by the government as the stranded Panamanian-registered Japanese-owned bulk carrier Wakashio is spewing its fuel oil into the Indian Ocean, threatening the fragile marine ecosystem.

It was reported that the Mauritian government has appealed to France to assist with the disaster response, which prompted a renowned expert on the Panamanian ship register to ponder on social media why the Japanese government had not been asked to help.

Not wanting to let such a huge dollop of irony go to waste, I suggested that, since the vessel’s flag is Panama, and the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) makes it abundantly clear where the responsibility lies, the point is why Panama was not leaping into action? Safe to say said expert was not happy with my attempt to highlight the true culprit in this awful tragedy.

The ultimate culprits in all these unfolding tragedies are flags of convenience (FoCs) and open registers. While proponents of the system dole out sticking plasters and point the finger hither and thither, they avoid the plain truth, and the underlying issues remain untreated. This is a systemic failing that undermines any attempt at accountability or effective governance of the shipping industry.

Author Ian Urbina, in an article for the Canadian National Post, identifies the true cause of the Beirut explosion as: 'Lax rules and a maritime bureaucracy designed more to protect anonymity and secrecy of shipowners than to enable oversight and transparency of the industry.'

He observes the absurdity of the FoC system: 'The company collecting the fees for the right to fly a certain flag is also responsible for policing its customers, ensuing they abide by safety, labour and environmental rules, and conducting investigations when things go wrong. But in practice, flags of convenience create a perverse incentive for ship operators to shop around for the most lax registries.'

Shipping companies still turn to the countries where they are ultimately based when they need government assistance. Whether it be naval protection, piracy response, oil spill response, state aid, funding to survive a pandemic or consular intervention with crew changes, your average FoC is a fat lot of good when things go wrong, and no one seems to pay attention when the seafarers onboard want to go home.

Our traditional maritime nations are weaker, less resilient, and our seafarers exposed because FoCs exist. It is time for a renewed debate about their insidious impact.

From the general secretary October 2020

It's high time the UK completes its review of tonnage tax to support the flag growth and guarantee seafarer skills, says Mark Dickinson in his October opnion piece.

With just three months to go until the end of the transition period, and a deadline of the end of October for a deal with the European Union, I am reminded of what is at stake for our maritime professionals.

With our partners at Maritime UK we have reconfirmed our belief that it is critical for the UK and the EU to agree a future trade deal before the end of the transition period on 31 December.

This position is supported by the entire trade union movement here and in Europe, and by the business community too. Parliament has voted several times against leaving the EU without securing the relationship.

The government must come good on its promises that we can thrive outside of the EU. The British people expect a future that builds on the strengths of the UK economy. As an island nation reliant on shipping for 95% of everything, that must include a commitment to grow the maritime sector and rebuild our seafarer skills base.

One of the areas that remains unclear is the situation for maritime professionals working on ships registered in EU member states – according to the European Commission that could be as many as 4,000 UK officers. At the beginning of September, then maritime minister Kelly Tolhurst said the UK government was working towards a solution for the acceptance of UK Certificates of Competency after 31 December, but acknowledged that further work was needed. We have also raised this with our colleagues at the European Transport Workers' Federation, who are also lobbying the member states to ensure UK certificates will continue to be recognised.

Meanwhile, the UK continues to issue Certificates of Equivalent Competency to any officer who seeks to work on UK flagged vessels – that is over 11,000 officers, according to the latest government figures.

The government must safeguard the employment of UK maritime professionals here and abroad, especially in the EU. UK officers are higher cost but their employment on foreign flags proves that their skills and experience are in demand. We can set higher standards for those seeking employment in our waters while seeking to protect jobs for our seafarers abroad.

We have welcomed the UK government's post-transition points-based immigration system with its minimum salary requirements. Together with the extension of the national minimum wage, this should help reduce social dumping in our waters and from our ports to the continental shelf. The government must ensure these policies deliver employment for UK seafarers by enforcing them and also look to extend the measures through bilateral discussion with our neighbours.

State aid could also be impacted by a failure to secure a UK-EU trade deal. The government must review its state aid regime to ensure it both delivers its original aims and remains attractive to shipowners.

The vast majority of UK owned tonnage is not registered in the UK. Far more Dutch shipowners choose to fly the Dutch flag and avail themselves of state aid, which includes 100% of the costs of training Dutch seafarers and a job guarantee at the end of their training. In the UK we are half-hearted in our support for the flag and for UK seafarers. We don't need to go to exotic locations in search of new ideas to entice shipowners. We have enough home-grown tonnage and best practice on our own doorstep.

Neither do we need to deregulate our employment, food and environmental standards to attract business. But the lessons of history show that shipowners will not train enough seafarers in return for positive measures unless compelled to do so. More carrot is needed but it must come with some stick too.

Existing measures such as the Seafarers Earnings Deduction, SMarT and the core training commitment are essential components of the UK's positive measures for shipping.

However, the much talked about government review of tonnage tax must now surely be top of the new minister's in-tray. When he gets to it, I hope he will look to ensure it supports outcomes in the national interest and underpins our maritime resilience.

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