The increasing criminalisation of maritime professionals is one of the biggest industry concerns that Nautilus International currently deals with. We are campaigning to ensure that our members can work without fear of being criminally prosecuted for incidents and accidents outside of their control.

What this campaign is about

Accidents happen in every industry, but when they do, no other industry treats its workers like criminals. When maritime accidents occur there is often an implication that seafarers somehow deliberately set out to cause a collision, injury or spillage.

Despite the global reliance on the maritime industry, the world’s media, governments and the public often take little notice of it until there is a major incident.

When an incident does occur, especially when it involves death and injury to passengers, or pollution, there is often a great public outcry and a demand for someone to be personally held accountable – and shipmasters and senior officers are usually first in the firing line.

A survey of Nautilus members in 2010 found that more seafarers than ever are turning away from the industry as a result of the risk of public prosecution and the threat of being made a scapegoat.

Over 90% of respondents were worried about the continued criminalisation of the industry, and for over two-thirds of them, this had impacted on the way they felt about working in shipping.

The results highlighted a shocking lack of information supplied to seafarers to advise them of the potential legal dangers of their work, but nearly all respondents stated that they would approach the Union for information rather than other sources including their own employers.

What we want to achieve

The Union believes that the maritime industry should operate in the same way as land-based professions. In many other industries, self-regulation exists to hold to account individuals involved in accidents occurring in a professional context. For example, in the medical profession, if a patient dies due to errors made by medical staff, doctors are not routinely criminally prosecuted for manslaughter and sent to prison; they are judged by a board of colleagues and could have their practice licence revoked if they are found to have acted negligently.

The maritime industry is a global one and incidents can happen anywhere in the world. Nautilus is concerned that seafarers are not supplied with information on local and international laws for the areas they are sailing in, so as to avoid falling foul of these when entering foreign territorial waters and ports. In response to the survey the Union made a large amount of information available to members alongside the results of the survey. These can be found in the Criminalisation of the seafarer report. The Union has also called on employers to ensure that their employees have all the information they need, relevant to the areas which they will be sailing in.

What we have achieved so far

Shipping is a global industry and marine incidents are unlikely to occur in your country of residence. Therefore, Nautilus provides free access for members to maritime lawyers based all around the world. These lawyers are ready to help our members as soon as they are contacted, at no charge to the individual. You can find the list of worldwide lawyers in our Members area. Remember, if you are involved in an incident anywhere in the world you should always contact the Union as soon as possible.

The Union has produced a guide on criminalisation which gives advice on what to do if your vessel is boarded by officials or you are suspected of involvement in an incident.

The Union helped to develop the Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident and works to ensure that they are adopted and implemented by all countries.

What’s next

We continue to support members affected by or at risk from criminalisation and we continue to lobbying governments to adopt and abide by the fair treatment guidelines.

The Union often runs criminalisation seminars in which expert lawyers inform members on the issue of criminalisation and how to deal with maritime incidents. The Nautilus events list will show if there is one coming up soon, or you can register your interest by emailing

One of the essential benefits the Union provides to members is professional protection through legal representation for those involved in maritime incidents. If you are not a member you can join the union to receive these benefits.

Nautilus will continue to lobby the governments of the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland, as well as the EU, to seek to ensure that legislation affecting seafarers does not increase the risk of criminalisation.

We will continue to support members involved in investigations and ensure they are able to access the provisions laid down under international conventions.

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