The pandemic implications in the shipping industry, cancellation of visas for Russian seafarers with the Russian shelf and the Northern Sea Route for only Russian-flagged ships is foreseen by the strategy defined at the 9th Congress of the Seafarers' Union of Russia for the coming 5 years. Among the prime tasks of the organization is attraction of young people. Holders of cadet cards can join the Seafarers Union.
Seafarers are comfortable with spending several months at sea. Yet, even the roughest sea dogs were hardly prepared for the events that happened 20 months ago. When the pandemic began, some 400,000 seafarers found themselves prisoners of the situation. Despite the expired contracts they had to continue working. Neither crew change, nor leaving ships for getting medical assistance was possible. Port authorities rejected repatriation. At least 57 lives were saved with the assistance of SUR which stood up for the rights of seafarers in those hard times.
“We succeeded in taking ashore seafarers in a critical state caused by blood-strokes, heart attacks and critical illnesses threatening health. Over a period of 20 months, we assisted in repatriation of 850 seafarers in situation when all authorities and organizations failed to succeed”, said Yury Sukhorukov, Chairman of the Seafarers' Union of Russia.
Through cooperation of SUR with the governmental bodies of Russia and the international maritime organizations, the crew rotation has considerably improved. As of today, some 200,000 seafarers with expired contracts are at sea. The problem is still far from being finally resolved.
The issue of visas for Russian seafarer is also acute. The Union says that Ukrainean seafarers which need to visit the ports of North America get visas for 10 years while Russian seafarers are only provide with visas expiring in a year or maximum five years, hence lower competitiveness of our seafarers. That is a policy of sanctions, says SUR. The issue of visas is also under discussion with the European Union. “I had a personal meeting with EU Commissioner to discuss a possibility for Russian seafarers to cross EU borders with only a seafarer identity card and a crew list as it was in the time f USSR when seafarers were free to cross borders with such documents”, tells SUR Chairman Yury Sukhorukov.
It is also necessary to protect the interests of seafarers working in the North. According to SUR, there are currently 28 foreign-flagged ships operating on the Arctic shelf of Russia with coastal shipping involving seafarers of Philippines, India, Greece. In some cases foreign ship owners tempt over Russian seafarers.
“We oppose that strongly. Business is business but we think that only citizens of the Russian Federation and the Russian-flagged ships should work on the shelf of Russia and on the Northern Sea Route. That is our zone and our coastal trade. We continue this struggle and I’ m sure that the Government will hear us sooner or later, the more so as that is an absolutely state-focused approach”, said Yury Sukhorukov.
To prevent a temptation by a convenient flag, the right of seafarers for respectable wages should be ensured. In this respect, SUR took part in the work of ILO Joint Maritime Commission including the work of the Subcommittee on Wages of Seafarers. In the result, the minimum monthly basic wage was increased to US$641 as of 1 January 2021. Besides, in the coming five years, SUR will commence the development and implementation of the programme for support of young safarers entering the profession. It is of prime importance for graduates which have limited opportunities for practicing, especially on modern ships. It is crucial to attract young people.
“For the next five years, SUR should undertake an ambitious task of attracting all graduates with shipboard professions into the Union. A more active work should be arranged in educational institutions”, says Peotr Osichansky, ITF inspector, Chairman of SUR primary organization in Vladivostok.
Today, the Far East sets trends for young seafarers. The organization of Nevelskoy Maritime State University currently numbers 32 cadets, more than in any other sea region of the country. Young people say then need the union for many reasons: to be aware of their rights and ways to protect them. Besides, they face their own specific problems.
The 9th Congress of the Seafarers' Union of Russia reviewed the results, adopted a programme for the coming five years, elected SUR authorities and Chairman. Yury Sukhorukov was unanimously re-elected as Chairman of Seafarers' Union of Russia for a period of 5 years.
The Seafarers' Union of Russia celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Over the years, the organization has passed a long way from a constituent group to a global community numbering 77,000 people. SUR numbers 11 territorial organizations across the country. The Union is represented in the Trilateral Commission and in the Maritime Board of Russia. It is also an active participant of expert boards of the Transport Committee within the Federation Council.