VISIT TO THE UKRAINE
Eight years had elapsed since my previous visit which had been particularly memorable for the official launch of The Nautical Institute of the Ukraine as our Branch there has to be named. Captain Martin Scott, the President at the time, did the honours and he has maintained a keen interest in the progress of the branch since then. Progress there has certainly been with the membership doubling to over 100 and the quarterly Sea Review journal produced by the branch, a high quality Russian language equivalent to Seaways. Its distribution goes to a number of other Russian speaking countries where we generally do not yet have branches, with the result that some members in these countries have asked to be attached to the Ukraine Branch.
Apart from Sea Review and recruitment, the Branch organises seminars and ensures that the views of mariners are heard in the official bodies administering maritime affairs in the country. Despite this and the healthy number of high ranking marine administrators in the membership, we continue to hear disturbing reports of malpractice amongst some officials boarding the ships, similar to the practices described in other countries by recent Captain's Column authors. The eradication of such practices is an urgent need wherever they occur and it requires a strong minded alliance of ship operators, their officers and agents, together with the true maritime professionals in the country - many of which will be found in our Branch. These corrupt practices are doing an immense disservice to the industry which largely continues to turn a blind eye in the hope of facilitating a smooth port stay but for the eventual loss of experienced seafarers who rightly decide they can do without the harassment.
The purpose of this particular visit was to deliver the Keynote Address at the 4th International Annual Conference «Practice of Maritime Business: Sharing Experiences - Arbitration and dispute resolution» as it was supported by the Ukraine Branch. The subject matter was something of a departure from our well worn path of speaking at conferences about safety, manning, training, and the like. As such it had the added advantage of an audience new to the Institute as they were largely from law firms and it was particularly noticeable that a high proportion of the delegates were young. They were certainly keen to learn and fired some probing questions, particularly at the Speakers from the German and London Marine Arbitration Associations.
A roomful of lawyers that you are not paying was an unusual opportunity so they were treated to our concerns on two key issues. The first was criminalisation of seafarers, not those who deliberately flout the law, but those who are unfortunate to be involved in an accident or are the innocent victims of criminal use of their ship to transport drugs or other illegal commodities. The second issue, which is often related to the first, was manning and fatigue. The plea to the lawyers on both issues was to think about these issues as they go about their work, particularly when interviewing seafarers as part of a case.
Interestingly, one of the German lawyers referred to the Cita case (the ship ran aground and sank in the Scilly Isles, UK because the exhausted Mate was asleep on watch). The lawyer's plea to declare the ship unseaworthy due to the fatigue of the crew was eventually denied by the highest court on appeal and the error of navigation limitation of liability under the Hague - Visby Rules was upheld. One wonders whether that would still be so under the new ILO hours of rest regulations?
Much good advice and knowledge was imparted by the international mix of speakers over the two days - ranging from what to find out about your contractual partners before signing to dispute resolution techniques and the development of arbitration services in the Ukraine. The importance of choosing the right jurisdiction for resolving the dispute was discussed a number of times with the use of case studies, and, in addition to knowing the law, it was clear that experience and attention to detail were key attributes in avoiding trouble. The whole conference was most ably charied by two of our Companions, Arthur Nitsevych and Andrey Suprunenko.
It was a pleasure to be able to present our dynamic Honorary Secretary of the Ukraine Branch, Professor Vladimir Torskiy, with his recruitment recognition awards (see August Seaways) at this high profile conference. Fortunately, the visit also coincided with a Graduate Day event at the Odessa National Maritime Academy and it was very good of the Rector of the Academy to give me the opportunity to address the past graduates. They ranged from those long since retired from the sea, but still passionate about it, to recently qualified officers. A number of the current cadets were also there and they staged a very impressive show after all the speeches. Apparently, all the very talented female singers and dancers were from the Law faculty which may say something about the perception of the sea-going part of a maritime career.
As ever the hospitality of the Ukraine Branch was excellent and my thanks to Professor Torskiy and Captain Sagaydak for the time they devoted to making the visit so worthwhile. Odessa is a beautiful city and the 8 years had certainly brought economic development, excellent renovation of old buildings including the superb Opera House, and a more prosperous feel to the place generally.
Philip Wake, MSc FNI Chief Executive, The Nautical Institute