The global maritime industry faces massive changes related to new fuels – and the SIU is helping make sure mariners’ voices are heard throughout what undoubtedly will be a decades-long process.
Most recently, this outreach consisted of longtime SIU member Lindsey Austin participating in the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – abbreviated as COP27 (it’s the twenty-seventh such conference). The well-attended gathering took place Nov. 6-20 in Egypt.
“I was really proud to represent working seafarers and especially to represent the SIU,” said Austin, a 10-year member currently sailing as a chief mate. “The industry’s goal is to be emissions-free or neutral by 2050, so mariner retraining is needed. Not only will we need to reskill and retrain, we’ll also need to attract and retain new people.”
While the conference had a wide-ranging agenda, a highlight for shipboard personnel and their unions was the introduction of Maritime Just Transition Task Force. Formed by unions, vessel owners and United Nations entities, the group’s mission statement underscores that its objective is “to ensure that shipping’s response to the climate emergency puts seafarers and communities at the heart of the solution.”
In that vein, COP27 included the unveiling of a new report commissioned by the Task Force. The research and findings pertain to mariner training and skills for decarbonized shipping.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), touching on some of the report’s findings, noted, “The three emission-reduction scenarios assessed in the research highlight an immediate need to start putting the training infrastructure in place, to ensure hundreds of thousands of the world’s nearly two million seafarers are upskilled and empowered through the transition. Findings also suggest that a lack of certainty on alternative fuel options is having [undesirable] effects for seafarer training, as the global maritime community works towards a clearer decarbonization pathway in a post-fossil fuel era.”
SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel – who chairs both the ITF Seafarers’ Section and the Maritime Just Transition Task Force and has been extensively involved in promoting mariner welfare around the globe – stated, “A Just Transition for shipping will require a commitment to safe crewing: having enough seafarers on board to allow for the safe handling of new fuels, technologies and ship designs.” (Heindel announced the federation’s sustainable shipping policy a year earlier.)
COP27 attendees expressed appreciation for the specific recommendations contained in the Maritime Just Transition Task Force report. Those goals include committing to global labor standards, prioritizing mariner health and safety, investing in training, supporting career pathways, addressing attrition and recruitment, and more.
Austin, who also participated in the 2021 COP meeting online, primarily took part in two of the COP27 panels. She found the experience “100 percent worthwhile. It’s always nice to be around a group of people who have a common cause and are passionate about it,” she stated. “People might not agree on the politics or science of climate change, but there is no question that change is coming in our industry. Now we have a plan.”
She added that a comment from one of the other panelists underscored the importance of mariners participating in COP27 and in future related events. “The sentiment was that we wouldn’t talk about farming without including farmers, and we shouldn’t talk about the maritime industry without seafarers,” Austin said. “That may sound basic but it’s a good point and it reinforces the need for us to be involved.”