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Criminalisation: an international issue

3 April 2024

Find out more about how the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is tackling the unfair treatment of seafarers following incidents and suspected maritime crimes

Criminalisation is one of the most serious problems facing seafarers today. When there has been a maritime accident or a pollution infringement, seafarers have often been detained and denied access to normal rules of fair play and justice with which to defend themselves against criminal charges.

In recent years seafarers are also increasingly being detained as suspects of maritime crimes, such as smuggling of illicit cargo, or anchoring illegally whilst awaiting clearance for port entry.

What is the ITF doing?

The ITF has released a helpful PDF guide that gives an overview of the criminalisation issue.

This guide details the problem,explains how the ITF is campaigning against it at an international level, and provides copies of the protections that are currently in place.

It includes a range of examples where the ITF has been involved in liberating seafarers, including the cases of MSC Capucine R (imprisonment without charge) and the Wakashio (detention without trial).

It also provides guidelines for seafarers when facing an investigation, including:

  • understand that when statements are made to a port, coastal or flag state investigation these may potentially be used in a criminal investigation
  • that you may need to receive legal advice prior to such statements, have access to interpretation services, and be aware of your right not to self-incriminate

What should I do?

If you face an investigation or some other interaction with the authorities, the best thing to do is contact Nautilus as soon as possible.

Wherever you are in the world, the Union can arrange representation during interviews with investigation authorities, police and other organisations, as well as at subsequent official inquiries.

  • Please get in touch with your national branch, or outside office hours please contact us via email, phone or chat at nautilus24/7
  • Download the full ITF toolkit document 


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