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Petition launched to protect British seafaring

18 June 2019

Shipping in Lerwick harbour, Shetland Islands. Photo Mike Pennington (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Momentum is developing around campaigns to use Brexit to boost employment, wages and conditions among British seafarers. In particular, unions want to ensure that shipping between UK ports – known as “cabotage” – is carried out by UK crews.

In the latest development, a petition has been launched calling for the introduction of a “Jones Act”. As the petition explains, the Jones Act (formally known as the US Merchant Marine Act of 1920) protects US jobs and standards in the industry.

Specifically, the act says that all goods carried by water between US ports must be carried in US-flagged and built ships, crewed by US citizens and permanent residents, and owned by US citizens.

One campaigner is calling for signatures on the petition after being urged to by his son, who is the Chief Officer on a North Sea supply ship. He notes that there are British-flagged ships without any British crew on board. 

“We are now faced with the bizarre situation where the Government is subsidising the training of new cadets and there being no positions for them once qualified,” the campaigner wrote in a circular seen by CPBML news.

Profit abroad

Unions in the industry – the RMT and Nautilus International – have long favoured having a similar law in Britain. Not so the UK Chamber of Shipping, which is more concerned with opportunities to make profit abroad than with employing UK officers and ratings.

Brexit should provide the opportunity to enforce laws to protect UK employment – but that appears to be the last thing on the government’s mind. When it introduced legislation earlier this year to revoke EU control of UK cabotage, it made it clear that nothing would actually change.

In January, junior minister Nusrat Ghani was explicit at a Commons committee meeting: “It is important that people understand that, despite revoking EU legislation, the UK will still operate a liberal cabotage regime. That means shipping companies registered in EU member states will still be able to operate in the UK as they do now, so very little will change.”