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Explosion at the Port of Beirut puts spotlight on lax maritime regulations

ILWU - Tue, 09/08/2020 - 10:21

Aftermath: The warehouse blast decimated the Port of Beirut and killed scores of port and maritime workers.

On August 4, two devastating explosions occurred at the Port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The second explosion, caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, leveled the port and killed at least 177 people, including seafarers, longshore and other port workers. The blast left an estimated 300,000 people homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage throughout the city. The ammonium nitrate had been confiscated by the Lebanese government from the abandoned ship, the MV Rhosus, and then stored at the port for six years without safety measures.

 ILWU statement

The day after the explosion, ILWU International President Willie Adams released the following statement: “International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) workers on the West Coast of the United States and Canada grieve the tremendous losses that Beirut is suffering following an explosion of stored material at a port warehouse. While the chaos of the explosion has yet to reveal the full scope of human loss, we are heartbroken to learn that longshore workers lost their lives when their worksite became ground zero for the catastrophic explosion. The city of Beirut and thousands of families will never be the same.

“Reports that the Lebanese government has put port authorities under house arrest while investigating the dubious storage of these explosive materials on the docks since 2014, and the likelihood that these deaths were preventable, are deeply disturbing but not surprising developments to those of us who work on the waterfront. Employers, port authorities and government agencies should always hold safety paramount on the waterfront – but, left unchecked, complacency and profit motive too often put workers’ lives at risk. The shocking images we are seeing in the news illustrate why dockworker unions fight for safety on the docks and the safe movement of cargo: to protect our lives and communities.

The ILWU is closely monitoring the developments at the Port of Beirut, and we will determine the best way to assist when the facts become clearer. On behalf of my fellow Titled Officers, the Coast Committeemen and the rank and file membership, I extend our profound condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the dockworkers and the people of Beirut.“

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) also issued a statement: “On behalf of the ITF and our 700 affiliates from around the world, we send our sincerest condolences and sympathies to all of those impacted by these terrible explosions. The ITF and our affiliates stand in solidarity with all of you, your members, colleagues, families and the people of Lebanon at this incredibly sad time,” they wrote. “We mourn this terrible tragedy alongside you and express our deep condolences to families who have lost their loved ones and wish the injured a quick recovery.’

ITF affiliated unions in Lebanon include the General Confederation of Drivers and Transport Workers in Lebanon (GCDTW), the Union of Beirut Port Employees (UBPE), the Syndicate of Middle East Airlines and Affiliate Companies (MEA), the Lebanese Cabin Crew Association (LCCA) and the Lebanese Seaman’s Syndicate (LSS).

 Profits over people

Protests erupted in the aftermath of the explosion that resulted in the resignation of Lebanese government officials including the Prime Minister. But the gross negligence of the government is only part of the story.  In an opinion piece published in The Guardian, Laleh Khalili, Professor of International Politics at Queen Mary University of London, argues that the roots of the catastrophic explosion run “to a network of maritime capital and legal chicanery that is designed to protect businesses at any cost.” At the heart of this “network of legal chicanery” is the “flag of convenience” (FoC) practice that prioritizes the profits of shipping companies over the health and safety of seafarers and port workers, Khalili argues.

Flag of convenience

The FoC practice allows shipping companies to register a ship in a country other than that of the ship’s owners to avoid oversight, regulations, and accountability. Such ships are registered to (and fly the flags of) countries with the weakest labor, environmental, and health and safety regulations.

 The beginning of the tragedy

In her article, Khalili begins the story of the Beirut Port explosion in 2013, when the Russian-owned MV Rhosus, registered to a company in Bulgaria and flagged in Moldova, set sail from Georgia to Mozambique with a cargo of ammonium nitrate. The 30-year old vessel had a hole in its hull requiring water to be pumped out to stop it from sinking. It was operated by a crew of eight Ukrainians and two Russians who were unaware that the previous crew had left the ship in protest of the non-payment of their wages by the ship’s owner.

The Rhosus stopped in Beirut to earn extra cash by picking up additional cargo of heavy machinery. Inspectors were alerted when the ship’s decks buckled under the weight. It was declared “unseaworthy” and Lebanese officials impounded the vessel for failure to pay charges including port fees. The owner filed for bankruptcy, abandoning the ship, its cargo, and its crew in the Port of Beirut.  Port authorities refused to allow four of the seafarers off the ship without a replacement crew.

The captain and remaining crew were trapped aboard the ship—with its 2,750 tons of explosive cargo—for almost a year with no wages, no access to electronic communications, and with dwindling food and fuel provisions, until a Lebanese court intervened and ordered them to be released.  The cargo of ammonium nitrate was confiscated and stored in a warehouse at the port–where it remained until it exploded on August 4.  “Flags of convenience are essentially an offshoring tool intended to protect capital, allowing unsafe ships to sail with crews who are vulnerable to the depredations of unscrupulous employers. Even the wealthiest shipping companies in the world, with headquarters in Europe and east Asia, flag their ships to open registries to save on wages, taxes and insurance,” Khalili concluded.

“The removal of these offshoring provisions, eliminating flags of convenience, and an overhaul of the arbitration mechanisms that so often disadvantage seafarers and less powerful states are only the first steps towards addressing the malfeasance that created [the August 4] tragedy. As the dust settles in Beirut, there is a great deal of work to be done.”

The ITF says that until there is a “genuine link between the flag a ship flies and the nationality or residence of its owners,” abuses will continue.”

Categories: Unions

ILWU Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin retires

ILWU - Tue, 09/08/2020 - 10:12

Screenshot of C-Span broadcast of ILWU Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin speaking before Congress.

ILWU Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin retired on August 14 after serving the union for over 30 years.  Lindsay’s many contributions to the ILWU and his work with the Legislative Action Committee have left a lasting imprint on the union and membership.   During his tenure as Legislative Director, Lindsay successfully navigated many rounds of contract negotiations, worked diligently to protect our health care and retirement benefits, advocated for investments on the waterfront, defended the Jones Act, and ensured the wellbeing of future ILWU members for years to come.

At the July 17 International Executive Board meeting held over Zoom, IEB members thanked Lindsay for his decades of work.  “I’ve known Lindsay for almost 30 years. This organization owes you a debt of gratitude,” said ILWU International President Willie Adams.  “Thank you for all the years of service. You’ve been a true warrior.”  “One thing you’ve demonstrated was never to be intimidated by these politicians—they work for us,” said Executive Board member Dan McKisson. “You’ve always done a great job for us and I really appreciate it.” Lindsay recalled how he actively pursued a job with the ILWU.

“When the job came open, the first thing I did was read a biography of Harry Bridges and that got me very excited about the ILWU. I wanted the job very badly because I knew this was union with principles,” he said. “I got so hyped-up, I even grew a long mustache so I could look older. I was 27 years old at the time and I thought the union might want someone with more experience.” Lindsay thanked the Titled Officers and Executive Board members for the opportunity to serve the ILWU membership for 30 years. “I may be retiring but I will never leave the ILWU. If the union needs anything from me, I will be there,” he said. Lobbyist Kyle Mulhall, who has

worked with the ILWU Legislative Office since 2015, will be handling the transition of duties for the ILWU Legislative Office.  We wish Lindsay all the best in his retirement and thank him for his many years of service to the union.

Categories: Unions

Vietnam: A new chapter in labour organizing

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 09/07/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: China Labour Bulletin
Categories: Labor News

Ukraine: 393 mineworkers launch underground protest

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 09/07/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: KVPU
Categories: Labor News

Algeria: IUF affiliates join call to UN to end rights abuses and support democracy

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 09/06/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: IUF
Categories: Labor News

Global: World Day for Decent Work: A New Social Contract for Recovery and Resilience

Labourstart.org News - Thu, 09/03/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITUC
Categories: Labor News

UK: Amazon withdraws job adverts for union 'spies'

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 09/02/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: BBC
Categories: Labor News

Belarus: The key role of workers in Belarus’ post-electoral upheaval

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 08/31/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Foreign Policy Centre
Categories: Labor News

Belarus: Solidarity for Democracy in Belarus

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 08/31/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: BWI
Categories: Labor News

Belarus: Wall of silence in Belarus: massive withdrawal of press accreditations

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 08/30/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: EFJ
Categories: Labor News

Qatar: A new dawn for migrant workers

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 08/29/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITUC
Categories: Labor News

USA: World Players stands with athletes in the US demanding racial justice

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 08/29/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: UNI
Categories: Labor News

Belarus: 'I cannot forget what has happened': Meet one of Belarus' striking workers

Labourstart.org News - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Euronews
Categories: Labor News

Cambodia: Join the campaign to free jailed union leaders

Labourstart.org News - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Education International
Categories: Labor News

ILWU’s 10 Guiding Principles Webinar

ILWU - Tue, 08/25/2020 - 13:07

The ILWU is hosting a webinar on September 22, 2020 as part of our leadership education programming.  The online event, The ILWU’s Values: Members reflect on the Ten Guiding Principles will feature leaders from across the union discussing the role of the ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles in their work and union life.

The Ten Guiding Principles were developed in 1953 to codify the cardinal values upon which the ILWU was built.  Since they were first written, the principles have served as a guidepost to ILWU leaders in their work within the union and the broader community.  This webinar will highlight some of the work that union members have done that reflects the ILWU’s values through the lens of the Principles.  Panelists will share personal stories that illustrate how the ILWU’s Principles have applied to their work.

The webinar is open to members and affiliates in good standing with preference given to active members.  Those interested in attending may register by clicking the link below.


Please register online no later than 5 p.m. on September 18, 2020

Questions may be addressed to Educational Services Director Robin Walker at robin.walker@ilwu.org


Categories: Unions

Maldives: Covid-19 Exposes Abuse of Migrants

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 08/24/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Human Rights Watch
Categories: Labor News


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