It was Charles Boyle's family connections to seafaring which originally encouraged him to look at maritime careers.
'My great uncle Arthur was in the Royal Navy during the Second World War,' he explains. 'He was on HMS Mashona, a tribal class destroyer, when it was sunk on 27 May 1941 by German aircraft in the Atlantic west of Ireland, while it was on patrol with HMS Tartar. I actually recall meeting him in the 1960s when I was about three years old.
'My father passed down old Arthur's sea stories to me, and this primed my interest in the RN. I also have an older cousin who spent a few years in the Merchant Navy as an engineering officer; I think he served his cadetship with BP.'
And so, as a teenager, Charles came down from Scotland to join the Royal Navy for five years, followed by a spell with the Metropolitan Police in London. His next move was to gain an LLB (Hons) law degree from the University of Liverpool, after which he returned to London to attend the Inns of Court School of Law, and was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1994.
After a period advising the recruitment industry on employment law and commercial contracts, an online job ad for a post at Nautilus caught Charles's eye. 'It seemed tailor-made for me,' he remembers, 'as I was interested both in trade unions and in all things maritime. I also liked the idea that I had come full circle, back into navy circles and issues, albeit this time it was the Merchant Navy.'
We could say the MLC has been "stress tested" during the coronavirus pandemic Charles Boyle, Nautilus legal director
It turned out to be a good call. 'One of the best things at Nautilus is the variety of the work which it brings,' he says. 'Our members are based all over the world and work in multiple jurisdictions. This creates challenges on territorial jurisdiction when trying to get redress to resolve the members' legal problems.
'I also like my work with international bodies like the International Maritime Organization and International Labour Organization, and making contributions to the legal instruments enacted by those UN institutions, which are so important for the protection of seafarers and the advancement of their rights.
Other work involves employment law and personal injury cases – including overseeing the Union's register of members exposed to asbestos – as well as giving input into consultations on policy and legislation with UK government agencies and the TUC union federation.
'There are often useful exchanges between our offices in London and Rotterdam,' he says, 'when our Dutch legal officer, Mieke den Hollander, contacts me, and vice-versa I may also ask her for advice. And I am ably supported by my secretary Sharon Suckling, who does a great job dealing with many initial enquiries, keeping our records up-to-date, and generally keeping me under control!'
Charles finds contact with members particularly rewarding, regularly communicating by email and telephone, and meeting in person at Branch Conferences and General Meetings. 'This contact has led to good and lasting personal friendships with many members, which is great.'
Since the Covid-19 lockdown, he reckons he has probably been twice as busy as normal. 'This period has thrown up many challenges, particularly in relation to seafarers being stranded, redundancy issues, wage cuts and dismissals. All my colleagues have been working very hard to help our members in their specialties during this period.
'Much assistance has been derived from the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, which could be said to have been "stress tested", as people are now relying on MLC provisions such as repatriation, facilitation of transit, shore leave, health and safety and welfare issues. The coming months will be a good time to assess the MLC's strengths and weaknesses, and consider areas for improvement.'