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Message World Fisheries Day 2018

21st November 2018

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World Fisheries Day was established in New Delhi, India, on November 21st, 1997 when for the first time representatives of small-scale, artisanal fishers and fish workers from 32 countries gathered together to form an international fishers’ organization and committed themselves to support global sustainable fishing policies, practices and social justice.

To appreciate the importance of celebrating World Fisheries Day, it is enough to consider the FAO 2016 data indicating that 59.6 million people were engaged (on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis) in fisheries and aquaculture. Of these workers nearly 14% of were women. The great majority of the population engaged in these sectors were in Asia (85%), followed by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. These together supply about 171 million tonnes of fish to the global market, and generate a first-sale value of production estimated at USD 320 billion. Global fish value chains that include production, processing, distribution and trade of fish, provide for the livelihoods of around 820 million people. Fish consumption provides about 3.2 billion people with nearly 20 percent of their animal protein.

Hidden within these significant figures which reveal the importance and contributions of the fishing sectors to food security, economic growth and poverty alleviation, there are countless and persistent challenging issues. Topping the list, aside from physical and verbal abuses, is the massive exploitation of fishers, including numerous cases of forced labor, human trafficking and disappearance at sea. We see direct links between all these abuses and the use of flags of convenience, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and transnational crime. Besides, we should not forget the challenge of sustaining fish stocks, pollution and other environmental concerns.

From this distressing and painful reality, the fish workers are crying out for help; and, as Church, we cannot shut our ears and we cannot remain silent.

On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): we would like to reaffirm Article 4 of the Declaration: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Additionally, we wish to recall Article 23, as follows:

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

These fundamental labour rights are human rights, and they must be fishers’ rights too!

Aware of the many problematic issues in fisheries, Member Countries of the specialized agencies of the United Nations[1] have adopted and endorsed several international instruments that, if ratified and fully implemented by all States, could dramatically change the life of fish workers, of their families and the environmental status of fisheries resources.

The fishing industry, which is considered by many as the main culprit for the difficult working and living conditions of fishers, is committed to solve these problems with product certification, while civil society and consumers are calling the retailers to be more responsible in their business and to exercise due diligence throughout their whole supply chain.

However, from reading the mass media reports on the issue and, most of all from hearing the harrowing stories recounted by the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea around the world, it seems that all these efforts are not enough, because the number of governments that have ratified the international instruments is still very low and in some small areas, the fishing industry still suffers from the ruthlessness  of profit-seeking policy makers.

As a Church, we would like to recall the exhortation of  Pope Francis to put people before the profit, as follows: “… Behind every activity there is a human being. […] The current centrality of financial activity compared to the real economy is not random: behind this there is the choice of someone who thinks, wrongly, that money is made with money. Money, real money, is done with work. It is the work that gives dignity to man, not money”[2].

As we celebrate World Fisheries Day, and as are expect to increase awareness on the situation of fish workers and create fundamental changes in their lives, we would like to call on international agencies, to join hands, putting aside differences, antagonism and rivalry, to develop a road map towards widespread ratification and implementation of the international instruments. This cooperation should be pursued at global, regional, national and local levels; and it should ensure the involvement of civil society, industry and retailers, NGOs, trade unions and the Church.

Working together, we can stop human trafficking and forced labor at sea, we can improve the safety of working conditions, and fight IUU fishing, in the hope of creating a socially, environmentally and commercially sustainable fisheries sector.

It is a great challenge but it is also the only hope that we have to reaffirm “the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms“[3] in the global fisheries industry.

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson

[1] International Maritime Organization (IMO), The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Preamble

Message for Sea Sunday 2018

8th July 2018

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As we celebrate Sea Sunday, we are invited to remember the 1.2 millions of seafarers from all nations, professing different faiths, forced to live for several months in the confined space of a vessel, away from their families and loved ones missing the most important and meaningful events in their families (birthdays’, graduations, etc.) and failing to be present during times of trials and difficulties such as sickness and death.

Seafarers with their profession play a significant role in our global economy by transporting from one corner of the world to another, 90% of all the goods we use in our daily life. For this reason, today while we pray for all of them wherever they are, we would like also to express our gratitude for their tough work full of sacrifices.

Here are some of the challenges that the people of the sea face daily:

Denied shore leave and ship visiting
With the mechanization and automatization, the turnaround time in the ports is reduced to the minimal, leaving the crew with inadequate personal time to rest and relax. Furthermore, if the introduction of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) might have improved maritime security at the same time it proved to be particularly challenging for seafarers. In numerous ports, crews are finding increasingly difficult to get permission to go ashore, either because of company policy or because restrictive and discriminatory regulations imposed by governments. However, that is not all. Many of our chaplains and ship visitors are denied entering into ports or prevented to go on board of vessels to provide material and spiritual welfare to seafarers who reach shore after weeks at sea.

We deplore these facts that are contradicting the spirit of the Regulation 4.4 of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC)1 entered into force on August 20th, 2013, aimed to improve wellbeing of the seafarers. Crews should not be denied the freedom of coming ashore likewise chaplains and ship visitors should not be denied the right to go on board of vessels.

Violence at sea and piracy
Though the situation is improved compared to the previous years, we would like to invite everyone to be more vigilant regarding violence at sea that generally is characterized by piracy. The root cause of piracy is always related to political instability and it is often linked to the fishing industry. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has deprived many coastal states of their natural marine resources, which created a situation of extreme poverty on land, making it easy for unscrupulous individuals to transform desperate and unemployed fishers into pirates.

We request governments and ship owners to put into place all the necessary mechanisms to protect the life of the people at sea and to minimize the economic cost.

Abandonment of vessels and crews
Abandonment of vessels and crews is not a new problem for the maritime industry. According to a newspaper report2 from 2012 to 2017 more than 1,300 seafarers were abandoned for different reasons in foreign ports far away from home, often with unpaid salaries and without food and fuel provisions for the vessel. Once abandoned the seafarers are left themselves to struggle for food, salaries, immigration status and many more issues unless they are assisted by a welfare organization.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers who, from Malta to South Africa, from United Kingdom to United States of America, for months and months have and are still providing material, spiritual, legal and psychological support to several crews of abandoned vessels.

We call for the full implementation of the amendments to the MLC 2006, requiring that a financial security system be put into place in order to ensure that ship owners provide compensation to seafarers and their families in the event of abandonment3 .

Environmental impact on the oceans
In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis says: “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy” (no. 26).

Like all types of transportation that use fossil fuels, vessels produce carbon dioxide emissions that significantly contribute to global climate change and acidification. Besides carbon dioxide ships also release a handful of other pollutants that contribute to the problem.

We support the efforts made by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to prevent and significantly reduce marine plastic pollution from the shipping sector and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from ships, as it implements other regulations that will mandate cleaner-burning fuels at sea.

Finally, I invoke the Blessed Mother, Star of the Sea, to extend her maternal protection to the people of the sea and guide them from the dangers of the sea to a secure port.

Cardinal Peter A. Turkson
Dicastery For Promoting Human Integral Development

1. Each Member shall ensure that shore-based welfare facilities, where they exist, are easily accessible. The Member shall also promote the development of welfare facilities, such as those listed in the Code, in designated ports to provide seafarers on ships that are in its ports with access to adequate welfare facilities and services.
3. Amendments to the Code Implementing Regulation 2.5 – Repatriation of MLC, 2006 (and appendices)

Message for Sea Sunday 2017

9th July 2017

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Dear chaplains, volunteers, friends and supporters of the Apostleship of the Sea,

In our daily lives, we are surrounded by and use many objects and products that at some stage of their journey towards us have being transported on vessels. It is difficult for us to imagine behind these objects the faces of the many seafarers who have secured a smooth sailing for the vessel to deliver safely these commodities in the port.

On Sea Sunday we are invited to recognize and express our gratitude to this force of more than 1.5 million seafarers, (the majority of them coming from developing countries), who with their hard work and sacrifices are making our life more comfortable by transporting, between nations and across the seven seas, almost 90 per cent of the goods.

Though their contribution is essential to the global world economy, many are challenges experienced by these people and many are the difficulties affecting their life and dignity. Here, I would like to recall some:

In spite of the great progress in technology, that has improved communication between seafarers and their loved ones, the long months away from the family are still a huge sacrifice that often reflects negatively on the family life. Mothers are left alone, forced to play multiple role with children growing with an absent father. It is important that in our pastoral ministry, we pay special attention to the families of seafarers by initiating and supporting the creation of seafarer’s wives groups to provide mutual care and assistance.

The use of social media would allow the crew to be connected with many people around the world, but disconnected and isolated from each other on board because everyone is isolated in the virtual world in which is seeking refugee during free moments. Our function especially during visits on board is to try to create a “human connection” and strengthen the “human communication” among crewmembers to prevent loneliness, isolation and depression that could lead to suicide which, according to a recent UK P&I Club research, is the top cause of seafarers’ death.

Because of the increase of the threat of terrorism, new security measures are further restricting in some ports the going ashore of seafarers and sometimes even the access to the vessel on the part of welfare visitors. Notwithstanding that we understand the need of making the ports “a secure place” for the people and the goods, on the other hand we must make sure that no one will be discriminated and prevented to go ashore because of nationality, race or religion and advocate for the fundamental right of the crews to “have access to shore-based facilities and services to secure their health and well-being” (MLC 2006, Title 4, Regulation 4,4).

In spite of the adoption and entry into force in August 2013 of the MLC 2006, that establishes the minimum international requirements of the human and labour right of seafarers, too many are still the cases of crews cheated out of their salary, exploited and abused on their work, unjustly criminalized for maritime accidents and abandoned in foreign ports. While it is our duty to provide all the necessary assistance and support to the crews which are experiencing hardship and difficulties, on the other hand we would like to call on all the maritime authorities to be more vigilant and attentive in intervening to prevent abuses and redress any wrongdoing.

Even though the treat of piracy around the maritime routes has decreased, compared with few years ago, the danger of arms attacks and hijackings are still very high in some geographical areas. We would like to invite the maritime community not to let down the guard and to implement all the necessary measures that will guarantee the safety and the protection not only of the cargo but most of all, of the crew.

Finally, I would like to focus our concerns on fishers and fisheries who will be the focus of the XXIV World Congress which will be held in Kaohsiung – Taiwan this coming October.

Similarly to seafarers fishers spend long time at sea, often sail on fishing vessels that are not seaworthy, their profession is considered one of the most dangerous in the world but they are entitled to lesser wages and benefits than those enjoyed by the seafarers. The fishing sector is plagued with cases of human trafficking and forced labour, and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

During the Congress, with the assistance of qualified speakers, we will increase our awareness and attention to these particular issues; we will strengthen our network with the objective to increase cooperation between the Apostleship of the Sea of the different nations; we will share resources and best practices to develop specific skills, particularly in the fisheries sector.

I renew my invitation that this Congress be attended not only by the experts, but by the largest number of chaplains and volunteers, because fisheries and fishers are a concern of the Apostleship of the Sea and not just only of those who are personally involved.

In concluding, let us ask Mary, Star of the Sea, to sustain our service and dedication to seafarers, fishers and their families and to protect all the people of the sea until they reach the “safe port” of heaven.

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson
Dicastery For Promoting Human Integral Development

Message for Sea Sunday 2016

10th July 2016

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Seated comfortably on the sofa in our living room, we find it difficult to understand how much our daily life is depending on the maritime industry and the sea. If we look around in the places where we live and work, we realize that most of the furniture and IT equipment we are using have been transported by ships, our clothes were shipped in containers from the other side of the world and the fruits we eat were delivered by refrigerated ships from another country while tankers are transporting oil and petrol for our cars. Without seaborne trade the import and export of goods and finished products would not be possible.

Even when we decide to enjoy and relax by going in a cruise we do not think that thousands of seafarers are working hard to make sure that everything will run smoothly and we will have a comfortable vacation.

Furthermore in the recent humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean Sea the crews of merchant vessels have been in the front line to intervene and rescuing thousands of people trying to sail to Europe on board of overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels, inflatable rafts.

Almost 1.200.000 seafarers of every nationality (many of them from developing countries) on board of 50,000 merchant ships are transporting almost 90% of every kind of cargo. The unforgiving forces of the open sea and of the oceans expose ships to significant risk, and the seafarers are “risking their life” more than one way.

The physical life of the seafarers is at risk because aside from the hazards of the forces of the nature, piracy and armed robbery, shifting from one area to another and constantly evolving and adapting to new situations, continue to be a major threat to the security of the crew. Their psychological well-being is at risk when after having been at sea for days or weeks they are denied shore leave and prevented to leave the vessel.

The family life of the seafarers is in danger because their contracts force them to stay away from their families and loved ones for many months and often for several years on a row. Children are growing up without a fatherly figure while all the family’s responsibilities are on the shoulders of the mother.

The human and working dignity of the seafarers is at risk when they are exploited with long working hours and their wages are delayed for months or in cases of abandonment not paid at all. Criminalization of seafarers is a serious concern especially considering that in recent years a number of previously considered lawful seafaring activities have been criminalized particularly in relation to incidents such as shipwrecks, pollution, etc.

Encouraged by Pope Francis who called the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea to “be the voice of those workers who live far from their loved ones and face dangerous and difficult situations”[1], as Apostleship of the Sea we stand at the side of seafarers to reiterate that their human and labor rights must be respected and protected.

We would like also to call on Governments and competent maritime authorities to strengthening the implementation of the ILO Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) 2006, especially the Regulation 4.4 whose purpose is:  To ensure that seafarers working on board a ship have access to shore-based facilities and services to secure their health and well-being.

Finally, on this occasion of the annual celebration of Sea Sunday we would like to remind to all Christian communities and to each individual how important and essential are the seafarer profession and the shipping industry for our daily life. We would like to call on the bishops, especially the ones of maritime Dioceses to establish and support the Maritime Apostolate as  “a visible sign of your affectionate attention to those who cannot receive ordinary pastoral care.”[2]

While expressing our gratitude to the seafarers for their work, we entrust them and their families to the maternal protection of Mary, Stella Maris.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò
Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care 
of Migrants and Itinerant People

+Joseph Kalathiparambil

[1] Francis, General Audience, 22 January 2014
[2] Benedict XVI, Address to the participants in the XXIII AOS World Congress, 23 November 2012