Nautilus International and the ITF have called on the UK Government to intervene, after inspectors seeking to ensure the welfare of seafarers were denied access to P&O Ferries vessels at the Port of Dover on 19th April.
In what was claimed to be an almost unprecedented move for the UK, officials at the port refused to allow inspectors working for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to access the vessels.
They were visiting the port to investigate welfare issues raised by replacement crew members on P&O Ferries vessels, after the company sacked its UK seafarer workforce.
ITF inspectors have ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) code clearance, which enables them to enter all UK ports and board all vessels in UK waters when seafarers request assistance.
Despite emailing ahead of time as a courtesy, the Dover Port Police refused the inspectors access on the basis that they had no advance warning of the visit. The inspectors are not obliged to provide prior warning to ports or vessel owners of impending visits to inspect vessels or investigate abuse of seafarers’ rights, Nautilus said.
“As an ITF Inspector in the UK for 17 years, this is the first time I have been refused access to a UK port to investigate crew welfare issues,” said ITF inspector, Tommy Molloy.
“Experience shows us that if non-compliant employers are tipped off to our inspections, often crew members get threatened and incriminating documentation goes missing. Our inspections are random by nature and by necessity,” he explained.
Both unions have called on the UK Government to intervene and ensure that inspectors are able to go on board and investigate serious concerns raised by the agency crew.
Nautilus International General Secretary, Mark Dickinson (pictured), said: “This is the latest worrying sign regarding P&O Ferries. We have already seen the low opinion that management at P&O Ferries has for seafarers when they laid off 800 UK seafarers over Zoom, so it is essential that ITF inspectors are able to do their job and protect the workers on board now.”
ITF General Secretary, Stephen Cotton, added: “P&O Ferries have shown that they have no regard for the law, it’s staggering that the Port of Dover would prevent access to ITF inspectors who are simply there to check on crew welfare and the safety of the ships.
“ITF inspectors across the world are at the frontline of protecting safety standards for seafarers and the vessels they crew. We have grave reservations about why they would be denied access, especially following MCA vessel detentions related to safety concerns and crew familiarity on the vessels.
“We call on the (UK) Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to find answers as to why our inspectors were blocked, and give a commitment that it won’t happen again,” Cotton said.
The ITF has notified the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) about the incident as a violation of the ISPS Code.
Since then, the MCA has allowed P&O Ferries to resume service and one ropax suffered a breakdown while crossing the Irish Sea.