The aim of the committee is to develop a more collaborative and holistic approach when providing assistance and support to the tens of thousands of seafarers who visit Durban each year.
The Port of Durban is already well cared for by the ecumenical Durban Seafarers Mission, operating from the Durban Seafarers Centre at Bayhead near the container terminal. This role is supported by organisations such as the Apostleship of the Sea, Biblia, Christian Seaman’s Organisation, German Seamen’s Mission, Sailors Society and Mission to Seafarers.
This care includes fellowship, and practical and spiritual support. Services include ship visiting, a seafarers’ centre, transport, and providing seafarers with access to shops, the internet and communications with home, together with support during times of need.
So why another organisation with some sort of overriding activity to all that is already available at the port of Durban, as well as several other South African ports?
According to the port welfare committee website (https://www.portwelfare.org/), the ISWAN (International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network) project works with representatives of appropriate international maritime organisations, governments, ship owners, maritime unions, port owners/the authorities and voluntary organisations.
The purpose is to establish and support welfare boards in accordance with MLC 2006. The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006), otherwise known as the “seafarers’ bill of rights”, builds on 68 existing maritime labour conventions and recommendations, as well as more general fundamental principles, to ensure decent working and living conditions for all seafarers.
Some important conventions not included are those relating to seafarers’ identity documents (ILO 108 and 105) and pensions (ILO 71).
The MLC is designed to sit alongside regulations such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards on ship safety, security and quality ship management (such as SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL).
Where they deal more with the vessel and its operation, the MLC deals more with seafarers’ rights. It should be remembered that MLC 2006 sets out minimum requirements; many flag states that ratify the convention may have higher standards. States may not reduce existing rights when they ratify a new convention. The International Labour Convention MLC 2006 came into force on August 20, 2013.
Getting back to the port welfare committee that gathered in Durban on Wednesday, this is part of a programme funded by the International Transport Workers’ Federation Seafarers’ Trust, Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB), TK Foundation and Seafarers UK.
It aims to encourage and support the establishment of welfare boards worldwide in accordance with ILO MLC 2006, hence the Durban meeting. Welfare boards provide the forum for maritime organisations to meet and support seafarers’ port welfare services/facilities to improve seafarers’ lives and services to shipping worldwide.
The newly formed Durban port welfare committee (DPWC) seeks to supplement and build on the excellent service already provided by the volunteer organisations already mentioned, and will establish a forum where the work of all marine organisations with a vested interest in seafarers’ welfare can be co-ordinated.
The DPWC will therefore bring together key representatives from the port, maritime community, local and provincial government and non-profit organisations to support and improve seafarers’ welfare facilities and services in Durban and Richards Bay, and where possible become influential at the other ports.
Strong assurances of support from the city of Durban came from the deputy mayor of eThekwini, Fawzia Peer, as well as those representing various organisations present. Included among these were representatives from the ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Walvis Bay.
A key representative attending the event from the UK was the international port welfare partnership project manager and MNWB deputy chief executive Sharon Coveney.
“The men and women who live and work at sea are often away from their families and friends for many months, working long hours at demanding jobs, landing in foreign countries for only short periods of time,” she said.
“We are delighted that Durban as a major Southern African port has participated in this programme. A content, fit and healthy seafarer is a safer and more productive seafarer.”
Peter Cottrell, chairperson of the Durban Seafarers Mission, said although there was much work being done for the welfare of seafarers in the Port of Durban, “this initiative offers us a unique opportunity to formalise relationships and establish a collaborative platform to better serve the 60000 or so seafarers who visit our port each year.”
The DPWC promises to be of great value to the port, the maritime industry and the country, and will complement the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy of South Africa.
As the first port in South Africa to form a port welfare committee, Durban will be leading the way as part of this global initiative to improve the overall well-being of seafarers under the auspices of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, to which South Africa is a signatory.