Fair treatment and criminalisation

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 and inland waterways personnel 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.


Nautilus 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.

Local and international laws

The maritime industry is a global one and incidents can happen anywhere in the world. 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.

The Nautilus report on criminalisation of the seafarer contains the results of a survey of members in 2010 and advice and guidance for members on how to deal with criminalisation and investigations into incidents.

Nautilus helped to develop the joint guidelines from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident and works to ensure that the guidelines are adopted and implemented by all countries.

What help is there for me if I'm in legal trouble?

Shipping is a global industry, and there is a strong likelihood you’ll be away from your country of residence if you’re involved in an incident. Therefore, Nautilus provides free access 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.

There is also our Nautilus 24/7 helpline, which can assist you.

Nautilus is part of the Joint Assistance and Support Network (JASON) with the other unions of the Nautilus Federation.  Under this scheme, you can obtain assistance from one of those unions if you are in trouble in a country in which one of them is situated, or in the relevant territorial waters, or on one of their national ships. Information on how JASON can assist you and how to access this service, along with a list of the relevant unions, is available on the Nautilus Federation website.

Remember, if you are involved in an incident anywhere in the world, you should always contact the Union as soon as possible, and certainly before making a statement to any investigating authorities.

What can I do about criminalisation to seek fair treatment for seafarers?

Nautilus lobbies 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. All members should contact their elected representatives to add their voice to the campaign.

Members can also ask their employers to ensure that their employees have all the information they need, relevant to the areas which they will be sailing in – something which Nautilus will support you in doing.

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.

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