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Union campaign ensures seafarers exempt from criminal prosecution under new UK immigration Bill

6 January 2022

Seafarers will be exempted from criminal prosecution for helping rescue people at sea, following a successful campaign by Nautilus International, with assistance from Maritime UK and the UK Chamber of Shipping.

Home Office Minister Tom Pursglove MP confirmed that a new amendment 'puts it beyond doubt that organisations and individuals who rescue those in distress will not be convicted for people smuggling offences'.

The original draft of the Bill left open the possibility that seafarers may be convicted for saving the life of someone in distress.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: 'The government's amendment is a substantial change and offers seafarers the required reassurance that they will not be criminalised for carrying out their professional duties and legal responsibilities under international conventions. Our fear was that the original wording of the bill implied a blanket criminal offence, with no carve-out or defences. Together we have achieved a very good outcome and I am pleased the government listened to the industry’s concerns.'

In July 2021 Nautilus and the Chamber wrote a joint letter urging the government to ensure that crews of merchant ships would not be criminalised for rescuing distressed persons at sea and bringing them ashore in the UK.

In a response to the letter, the Home Office Minister at the time Chris Philp made assurances that the 'Nationality and Borders Bill targets ruthless criminal gangs who put lives at risk by smuggling people across the Channel'. Only now has the Home Office confirmed these changes will be made in legislation, something Nautilus, Maritime UK and the Chamber had been calling for.