Press Release [Updated]

16 April 2020

“It is not something we can sustain into the future. We desperately need the shipping companies, port authorities and all those who profit from the maritime sector to make some financial contribution to the care of crews coming ashore in New Zealand.”   

The Reverend John McLister, Lyttelton, New Zealand

[UPDATED 20/04/20] London, UK. / Lyttelton, New Zealand.  Today, Human Rights at Sea publishes an independent report and case study into the precarious state of the sustainability of welfare support for seafarers visiting New Zealand ports titled: “New Zealand: Under-Funding of Seafarers’ Welfare Services and Poor MLC Compliance”.

The long-term maintenance of valued seafarer’s centres remains under constant threat due to the lack of financial and logistical sustainability due to a deficiency of committed Government and local maritime industry support.

This is a notable issue that has been challenging welfare providers well before the global Coronavirus pandemic appeared earlier this year.

While there is a current suspension of immediate shore-side welfare services to visiting seafarers due to the temporary closure of seafarer centres, the Human Rights at Sea independent report instructed by the chairperson of the Seafarers Welfare Board for New Zealand, the Revd John McLister, and published alongside independent maritime Counsel’s opinion, today raises the necessary awareness around welfare support failures for key maritime workers who supply New Zealand with food, medicines and materials throughout the year.

The report commissioned pro bono in October 2019 has involved an independent review of disclosed documentation raising ongoing port chaplaincy concerns, legal opinion, Government responses and the New Zealand Seafarer Welfare Boards’ attempts to secure sustainable resourcing.  Its findings and recommendations should be noted, not just in New Zealand, but around the world for emerging seafarer’s Port Welfare Committees and partnerships.

To date, it has been the uncompromising charity of local people and parishioners in terms of their funding and volunteering in affected port communities that has been, and continues to be, the backbone of the provision of assistance to visiting seafarers, noting the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Nonetheless, such local charity is not a sustainable option, especially when looking to the welfare provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) of which the New Zealand Government is a signatory, has ratified, and which was brought into force on 9 March 2016.

Executive Summary

Notwithstanding the detail within the report, the Executive Summary highlights that:

“In New Zealand, there appears to be a broken system of gross underfunding and poor support in respect of the role and responsibility of the State and pertinent commercial maritime entities, towards the assured provision and sustainability of seafarers’ shore-based welfare facilities and services directly supporting seafarers and in-turn, the international maritime trade that the country so heavily relies upon.”

“This independent report concludes, that at the time of writing, the New Zealand Government has seemingly failed to support the Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”), its intent and specifically, the reasonable and necessary welfare provisions for seafarers. Further, the Government has apparently not engaged with the International Labour Organisation (“ILO”) as per its State reporting requirements.”

“Despite significant and exhaustive charitable efforts on the part of New Zealand based seafarers’ welfare organisations and its citizen volunteers there has been a surprising lack of engagement at Government level and therefore, a failure to safeguard seafarers’ welfare provisions, (as well as their wider human rights), under the MLC.”

Example: The Costs of Running New Zealand’s Seafarers’ Welfare Facilities

“In 2017, it cost New Zealand seafarers’ welfare charities over $700,000 to finance New Zealand’s shore-based welfare centres. Apart from a small grant of $5,000 from Maritime New Zealand, two $5,000 grants from port authorities, and one $5,000 grant from the Christchurch Council, funding of shore-based welfare facilities is primarily shouldered by the seafarers’ welfare charities. The New Zealand Government, shipping companies, most port authorities and entities that own ports make little or no financial contribution to the care of seafarers visiting New Zealand ports. The cost of running welfare centres would be much higher if it were not for the reliance on voluntary labour to staff seafarers’ centres. It is estimated that in 2017, using the independent volunteer sector rate of $23.00 per hour, volunteers contributed $600,000 to staffing New Zealand’s shore-based welfare centres.”

Report Recommendations

“Constructively, and based on the in-country evidence disclosed, Human Rights at Sea suggests the following recommendations:

  1. Recommend that the New Zealand Government immediately review the funding mechanism, or lack thereof, for shore-based seafarers’ welfare facilities and services under the MLC throughout the State;
  2. Recommend that the New Zealand Government draft and propose relevant amendments to national legislation to support seafarer’s welfare services, for example to the Maritime Transport Act 1994 in order to give effect to Regulation 4.4 of the MLC;
  3. Recommend that the New Zealand Government introduce an updated compulsory port levy system in line with that advocated by the ITF ICC, and other maritime welfare organisations, which specifically focus on sustainably delivering seafarers’ welfare services;
  4. In the alternative, it is recommended that the New Zealand Government ring fence and allocate part of the current Maritime Levy currently in place to assure future funding and the protection of seafarer’s welfare facilities and services;
  5. Recommend that the SWB raise a formal complaint with the ILO for non-compliance with a Convention obligation should the New Zealand Government fail to subsequently act.”


The Reverend John McLister commented that: “We are three weeks into the lockdown, and while the Government is rightly focussed on COVID-19 concerns, more than any time in our history are we reliant on our maritime trade.”

“This has not stopped, but seafarer’s rights have been severely curtained under the present crisis. The best way we could honour the essential work seafarers are doing is to ensure when the crisis eases the have decent facilities for them.”

“This report from Human Rights at Sea independently supports our concerns and articulates them for all to comprehend.”

CEO of Human Rights at Sea, David Hammond, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the absolute need to look after our seafarers, especially when they arrive in port and seek welfare support.”

International Port Welfare Partnership

More widely, the International Port Welfare Partnership (IPWP) is an International Seafarers’ Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN) project that has been funded by ITF Seafarers’ Trust, TK Foundation, Seafarers UK and Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB). The project, managed by the MNWB, encourages and supports the establishment of welfare boards worldwide, under the auspices of ILO MLC, 2006.

Sharon Coveney, Deputy Chief Executive, MNWB commented:

“The maritime sector is a disparate, global industry in which seafarers’ welfare and wellbeing is assuming an ever-increasing importance. No matter what technological advances are made the maritime industry depends on the seafarer for the safe passage of ships and their cargoes. There are numerous excellent examples of formal and voluntary port levies that financially support the provision of outstanding seafarers’ welfare services in ports however, globally, they are more the exception than the rule.”

“The quality of life for seafarers in port benefits greatly when Governments, Ship owners, Unions (representing seafarers), Port Owners/Authorities and Voluntary Organisations (such as Mission to Seafarers, Stella Maris (AOS), Sailors’ Society etc.,) all meet regularly with one another and ensure seafarers’ welfare is properly supported.”

The Government of New Zealand has been contacted for comment, with the report and Counsel’s opinion having been disclosed. A Government representative has responded to Human Rights at Sea to acknowledge receipt and due consideration.