Where Human Rights Face Rough Seas

Holy See Cites the Plight of Those in Maritime Activities

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 13, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Seafaring workers often feel unappreciated and suffer human rights violations, says the Vatican agency that oversees the pastoral care of those linked to maritime activities.

“Our hearts and thoughts go to all seafarers, fishers, cruise ships personnel-cum-passengers, port workers, sail competitions, yachting people, and all their families,” reads a message of the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, Cardinal Stephen Hamao, on the occasion of Sea Sunday.

In most countries, Sea Sunday is observed on the second Sunday of July. It is promoted by organizations such as the Apostleship of the Sea.

Founded in 1922, the Apostleship is a network of Catholic groups present in 116 countries. It is under the direction of the migrants council.

In his message, Cardinal Hamao mentioned “the debt that our society owes to these workers.”

“We depend on them to ensure the transportation of almost everything we use or consume, especially food from the sea,” he wrote. “In fact, more than 90% of the trade and commercial exchanges between nations is done by sea.”

Unjustified detention

While the work calls for sacrifice and professionalism, the “great majority of seafarers feel that their contribution to world economy is neither recognized nor justly rewarded,” the cardinal noted.

Despite the efforts of international agencies and organizations, “there are still many unresolved situations affecting the life and dignity especially of fishers and seafarers,” he stated in the document. “Sufferings, specifically of people on the move, are caused in great part by violations of human rights, notwithstanding the fact that society has an obligation to create the conditions, also for all of them, to live peacefully and decently.

“Recently, we have witnessed an increase in unjustified detention and criminalization of seafarers. This includes the arrests of innocent fishermen by the Pakistan and Indian coast guards.”

Many chaplains and pastoral agents also report that access to ships’ crews is becoming increasingly difficult, even for pastoral reasons, the cardinal warned.

The concept of “fair trade” is “progressing slowly but surely in many parts of the world. A growing number of consumers are being sensitized to it.”

AIDS problem

As sea transport “is an essential part of international trade,” has the time not arrived “to extend the notion of ‘fair trade’ to maritime transport, fishing and other categories alike?” the document asked.

The directors of the pontifical council are especially concerned about the large scale “human catastrophe” that AIDS represents, a grave risk for seafarers, fishers and other people of the sea “who travel all over the world.”

Aware of their responsibility to combat the pandemic, the message exhorts the Apostleship of the Sea worldwide “to resolutely engage itself, in conformity with the moral teachings of the Church, in the formation of the people concerned,” challenging “discrimination and marginalization” and expressing “unwavering solidarity” with those affected.

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