An International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting has heard concerns from the Vatican over the unjust treatment and violence at sea faced by many maritime professionals.
The Holy See's secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, called for seafarers' dignity and welfare to be protected and upheld at the 32nd Session of the IMO's General Assembly in London on 7 December 2021.
'There are thousands of seafarers who are currently stranded on ships well beyond the term of their original contracts and who are unable to be repatriated due to Covid-related travel restrictions. Furthermore, there are seafarers who, because of lockdowns or other similar constraints, are unable to join their sea crews and secure their salary,' he said.
'This is deplorable and severely affects their families as well,' he said, adding that the pandemic has only served to bring such 'despicable violations' into greater focus.
Archbishop Gallagher also told the Assembly that many seafarers are still being denied shore leave and access to welfare services, and that seafarers are also vulnerable to violence and abuse at sea, including pirate attacks and modern slavery.
Archbishop Gallagher expressed the Holy See's support for the IMO and its Member States in upholding the fundamental human rights and integral development of all seafarers, as well as a fairer future for them.
He also highlighted the IMO's global role in 'urging the international community to take into consideration more safe and regular migration pathways, for the large numbers of people migrating by sea in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.'
In a message on World Fisheries Day on 21 November 2021 Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson also underlined the human rights abuses facing fishing crew, arguing greater protections are necessary for fishing crew. 'Our indignation for the many Human Rights violations at sea, should be transformed into a new strength that would influence the fishing industry to place at the centre of its interests, the respect of the human and labour rights of the fishers.'
The Catholic Church's support to seafarers and fishers worldwide is conducted through global maritime charity Stella Maris, which works through its large ship-visiting network at 300 ports in more than 50 countries to improves the lives of seafarers and fishing crew.