Federation vows stricter monitoring of FOC vessels

By VG CABUAG/ Business Mirror

Posted at Nov 20 2008 09:46 AM | Updated as of Nov 20 2008 05:46 PM

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) will continue to monitor and inspect vessels in the Philippines registered through the concept known as flag of convenience, or FOC.

It has been a week now since ITF inspectors started poking into FOC vessels docked in Manila and Cebu. FOC vessels refer to ships whose owners’ nationality differ from its country of registration. Used since the 1950s, the term FOC stems from the flag ships fly to show their country of registration. The country of registration determines the laws under which the ship is required to operate.

Australian ITF inspector Graham Bragg said the federation would pressure FOC vessels, particularly those owned and registered in Myanmar.

ITF would like to make sure that the rights of onboard FOC ships, as well as the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are honored by ship owners.

“We will monitor them through our network in Manila and in Cebu,” Bragg said in an interview.

Also, in a weeklong inspection of other docks in Southeast Asia that ran up to November 14, six agreements were concluded and eight vessels signed up with ITF.

Manila ITF inspector Rodrigo Aguinaldo said the federation expects a rise in the number of abuses in Southeast Asia against seafarers, including Filipinos. Filipinos fill an estimated 25 percent of the world’s maritime crew.

These violations include a disregard of the wage structure as stated in the CBA, nonpayment of overtime hours, delays in salaries, serving substandard food and poor onboard facilities.

“I’m sure these cases of abuses will come out little by little. Maybe not now but later on,” said Aguinaldo, who also works for the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines.

Global demand for charter service bottoms has screeched to a near halt because of the financial crisis, he said.

Charterers, or companies that hire vessels for a specified number of days and, in some cases may run up to years, now offer $18,000 a day per vessel from $250,000 a day last year.

Aguinaldo said the situation could lead to a profit squeeze. As a result, ship owners and operators might resort to disregarding salary agreements with seafarers and scrimping on worker’s basic benefits while onboard.

Joint teams of ITF inspections have also been conducted in Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

More than half of the world’s merchant ships are registered under FOC concept. The industry also refers to the concept as “open registries.” Owners usually resort to FOC because of burdensome income taxes, wage scales and regulations.

FOC countries, according to ITF, include Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Cayman Island, Comoros, Cyprus, Equitorial Guinea, France (second registry), Germany (second registry), Georgia, Malta, Gibraltar, Mauritius, Honduras, Jamaica, Lebanon, Liberia, Marshal Islands, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Tonga, Netherlands Antilles São Tome and Principe, North Korea, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Panama, and Vanuatu.

The federation is focusing on Myanmar-registered vessels and Burmese workers after ITF discovered labor exploitation and the murder of a seafarer in Myanmar in a Thai fishing vessel last month. Thousands of Burmese flee Myanmar each year for political and economic reasons.