Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 1/2020)
Sir, I stand in support of this bill.
In 2016, we amended our laws in accordance with the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to improve protections for crew abandoned by their ship-owners by mandating shipowners’ procuring of financial security. This ensures that seafarers are fairly compensated in the event of death or long-term disability due to occupational injury, illness or hazard.
In view of last year’s spate of sea robberies in our waters, which has reached a four-year high, it is commendable that we are seeking amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Act to duly compensate seafarers in the event of an abduction in an armed robbery or piracy incident.
I am also supportive of this move to bolster the labour protection for seafarers, a vulnerable group of workers who are exceptionally excluded from the Employment Act.
To the proposed amendments, I would like to raise five clarifications.
Reporting of abductions
My first clarification is on the reporting of abductions.
Given that captive seafarers must continue to be paid wages and other entitlements during their captivity, errant shipowners may make false claims of the whereabouts of the abducted seafarer in the event of an armed robbery or piracy incident.
Can the Minister clarify what measures will the MPA put in place to ensure all cases of crew abductions are truthfully and accurately reported?
What punitive measures does the MPA intend to take against errant shipowners?
Period of salary payment
My second clarification is on the period of salary payment.
The new section 20(7A) provides that the seafarer’s wages and other entitlements must continue to be paid during the seafarer’s period of captivity until (1) the seafarer’s release and repatriation; or (2) the date of the seafarer’s death.
Further, the effect of the new section 12A is that the seafarer’s employment agreement continues to have effect during the captivity period regardless of the date of expiry of the agreement and any termination notice.
It is possible that a seafarer’s life, safety and whereabouts will be unknown while in captivity. It appears from the bill that in the instance that a seafarer is held captive for an extended period and it cannot be confirmed if he or she is dead, the shipowners will be required to continue paying wages and other entitlements indefinitely.
While I am supportive of the protective rationale of these amendments, shipowners have a strong incentive to avoid making these payments for an abducted seafarer.
How will the MPA ensure that shipowners will continue to make these payments? In the event that shipowners are unable to make payment, what funds are available to cover the shortfall in wages and entitlement to be paid to the abducted seafarer?
My third point is on terrorism-linked kidnappings.
Clauses 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the Bill seek to protect the seafarer in the event of an abduction related to an armed robbery or piracy incident.
We have seen kidnap-for-ransom incidents perpetrated by terrorist organisations in the region. Notably, the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group has carried out a number of kidnappings of seafarers in regional waters.
Most recently, in June 2019, ten gunmen from Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 10 fishermen off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia.
Can the Minister clarify if these amendments will cover abductions linked to terrorism? In other words, will the abducted seafarer be remitted his due wages and entitlements in the case of terrorism?
Post-release support programmes for abducted seafarers
The fourth issue I would like to raise is a proposal on post-release support programmes for abducted seafarers.
A study titled “The Long-term Impact of Maritime Piracy on Seafarers’ Behavioral Health and Work Decisions” found that 1 in 4 former hostages showed symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Given that victims of other types of trauma such as assault and sexual harassment can tap on numerous avenues for counselling and support, the same should be made available for abducted seafarers, even if such victims are rarer.
Will the Minister consider introducing post-release support programmes for abducted seafarers?
Protections for Singaporean seafarers on non-Singapore flagged ships
My fifth and final point is on protections for Singaporean seafarers on non-Singapore flagged ships.
Section 3(1) of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Act provides that various parts of the Act will cover Singapore ships wherever they may be and non-Singapore flagged ships in Singapore.
The Act does not seem to apply to Singaporean seafarers on non-Singapore flagged ships.
Can the Minister clarify if the protections accorded by these amendments will be extended to Singaporean seafarers on non-Singapore flagged ships if they are abducted in a piracy incident outside of Singapore’s territorial waters? If not, what protections and recourse are available to them?
With more than 1,000 ships passing through the Singapore Strait every day and more than 4,400 Singapore-flagged ships on our registry, this amendment will ensure that abducted seafarers and their families will be adequately compensated. This Bill will align Singapore with the 2018 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention.
As such, I stand in support of this Bill.
Watch the speech here