Encouraging a collaborative approach to improving maritime human rights

In little over three years since its formation, Human Rights at Sea has made waves as an independent research, investigation and advocacy for maritime human rights. But as the charity’s founder and CEO David Hammond (a former Royal Marine Commando and international Barrister-at-Law) explained in his interview with Daniel Barnes, the lid on Pandora’s box of global maritime injustices is barely ajar. 

Human Right at SeaDavid, on a personal level, why did you feel compelled to get involved in addressing and improving human rights throughout the maritime environment in the first place?

I abhor injustice wherever it is. I have previously served at sea, witnessed first-hand bullying and harassment on board, spent time in very challenging pre and post-conflict states and been around gross human rights abuses.

My life to date has been about having the moral courage to speak up when things are not right. This, of course, is hugely unpopular at times with people with vested interests. However, it’s not just about speaking up, but actually doing something about what you see as being wrong. It is therefore no good talking and then not delivering change or an effective solution. It is also personality driven, and I do recognise that my personality is such that when I’ve decided to do something, I do it.

As a barrister, I have previously taken very difficult cases where I have given a voice to people who did not have one and which included supporting Libyan female rape victims after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli, for example. This led to wider work on the current migrant crisis and rescue at sea. 


Charity founder and CEO David Hammond

Charity founder and CEO David Hammond

For those unfamiliar with the charity and yourself, could you provide Inside Marine with a little more background? 

On retiring from the Royal Marines in 2011 as the first in-house Counsel, I initially conceived and drafted what became the first independent set of Rules for the Use of Force (RuF) – known as the 100 Series Rules – in support of private maritime security teams defending commercial vessels from pirate attack and associated human rights provisions. That went in front of the IMO at MSC 92 and subsequently, the 100 Series Rules have been adopted, either in whole or in part, by many maritime security firms. 

Soon afterwards, I was asked by a former client what the ‘landscape for human rights at sea was’ and I immediately realised that no-one was explicitly covering the issue. Of course seafarer’s rights under the Maritime Labour Convention are well worked through, but human rights are much, much wider than just labour rights. I therefore had a decision to make. Was I going to step up and do something about it, or let it pass me by? The rest is history.

Human Rights at Sea, as an independent maritime human rights charity, is not just about the ‘first-world’ shipping industry and which is a common misconception leading to queries about our role and potential duplication of effort with other organisations. Our scope and coverage is in fact for human rights-related abuse issues across the entire maritime environment, and which you will immediately recognise is an immense undertaking. 

We obviously work closely with the main maritime welfare organisations so as not to replicate their invaluable frontline welfare work, but virtually everything else we do is plugging information and education gaps not previously covered, or covered in insufficient detail so as not to be effective in providing clarity on the issues raised. 

As I continuously publicly state, I do not have enough heartbeats to replicate other people’s work and fundamentally, it is not in our interest to do so.


The short history of HRAS has involved you co-authoring the first international guidance on the EU funded Deprivation of Liberty  at Sea; co-delivering the 2015 Humanitarian Response e-learning course for the maritime industry dealing with refugees and migrants in partnership with Marlins; and publishing the first introductory commentary on the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the maritime environment, to name but three achievements. How many people are helping you?  

At this time, we are a small organisation and deliberately structured so in order to be able to react quickly, exploit opportunities and keep our business overheads to a bare minimum so that the majority of our funding goes into our public delivery. 

Everyone works on a voluntary basis and personally, I have never taken a salary in four years, having started the charity with my life savings. We have six Trustees who make up our members under the Charitable Incorporated Organisation model and strong governance under the Charity Commission and through our non-executive Board of Advisors.

We currently have a CEO post, legal assistant, up to six interns and a raft of pro bono helpers across media, legal, governance and fundraising disciplines. Our business model and organisational structure is remarkably successful when one compares the small level of initial funding with our successful delivery and our emerging influence as an entirely independent maritime human rights organisation.

The charity deliberately has a very light footprint and so we have to effectively and efficiently use every piece of support available to be successful. We are also very mobile which means that 

if you can carry a laptop in a rucksack with satellite communications, and get an uplink or internet access, then we can work and report from wherever we are.

We also use the media and social media to the maximum extent possible to get our profile internationally known. As a result, people are now coming direct to us to become involved with our work and our Twitter following @hratsea now stands at over 18,000.


human rightsThe charity operates under three values; transparency, clarity and accountability. Can you elaborate?

Those three core values underpin both our founding principle that ‘human rights apply at sea as equally as they do on land’, and our mission to explicitly raise awareness, implementation and accountability of human rights provisions throughout the maritime environment, especially where they are currently absent, ignored or being abused. Further, we decided that we would not be a paid membership organisation, but that we would give all our work away for free. 


Are there any particular case studies you wish to share with our readers? 

The majority of our case studies are not ones which confer good news. They deal with abuse, loss of family members and the resultant effects. Many of the issues we have first raised or introduced have subsequently been mirrored and publicly taken up by other organisations and news outlets, and we regularly have inquiries requesting details of new cases and evidential material, which says much about where we have come from in just three years.

In terms of ‘success stories’ as measured against our charitable objectives and which includes independent investigations, we have successfully highlighted, at an early stage, a number of international issues. 

HRAS was the first NGO to translate the audio recording on the now viral video footage of the 2013 murder of seafarers in the Indian Ocean that became part of an infamous New York Times series. 

The charity was one of the first NGOs to raise the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya boat people. We helped locate one of the vessels ten nautical miles off Koh Lipe Island in the Andaman Sea with one partner using satellite imagery, cell-site analysis and another partner out at sea in a speedboat actively searching. 

We have published detailed evidence of illegal night deportations in the Aegean Sea, and interference by the Libyan Coastguard with migrant rescues in international waters where one of our team was directly involved and had to watch migrants drown in front of her. Finally, we have dealt with testimonies of the abuse of Indian seafarers repatriated from the Falkland Islands and most recently, of Indian seafarers abandoned in China.

These are just a few examples of our work and there is much that we do not publish and for those cases we quietly lobby for change often alongside other NGOs seeking a similar result. This has been a very successful approach for us to date.


This quiet approach must be a critical part of your operations?  

Yes, often a discreet approach yields the most success. The audience at the heart of our focus are the businesses operating throughout the maritime supply and value chain, as well as State actors. We therefore need to be professional to be credible. In short, Human Rights at Sea is about positive institutional and generational change towards our subject matter, and I can assure you that that is a very hard sell.

I must also make it very clear that we are not an activist organisation. We prefer a collaborative approach rather than a combative one. We are working in this way increasingly more so now, and we are working closely with some very large firms, who, initially and probably out of curiosity have said; ‘Can you just look at what we are doing?’ which we do pro bono. This approach helps us build both our platform and reputation.


How have you managed to creak open some of these ‘closed doors’ over the past three years? 

Tenacity. As a former Royal Marine Commando, we are taught not to give up, and we are taught resilience. I have therefore transposed those skill sets non-emotively into what I now do in the charitable arena and maritime sector, though a thick skin is also essential.

One of the common problems we have is that people simply do not like change, and they do not like new people in the sector. The shipping industry is known as being conservative, so therefore, under normal circumstances you have to do your time before being recognised. Unfortunately, I do not have time for that and so, we just get on and deliver and against which we are judged. 


In your view, what areas of the maritime environment – be it particular industries, companies or specific locations – should be congratulated for their excellent human rights programmes and protocols? 

We have yet to find any demonstrable evidence of real ‘excellence’ and effective remedy provisions for abuses. Many maritime companies have overt and published human rights policies, and human rights impact assessments under their corporate social responsibility and sustainability focus areas, but not all. We want to see this as the basic industry standard towards recognising the international weighting and fundamental values of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as a bare minimum. 

Unfortunately, the second and third pillars of the UNGPs, those being ‘Respect’ of human rights by business and the provision of effective ‘Remedy’, have yet to be fully embedded in the maritime corporate culture as they are not a mandatory legal requirement. This should be addressed.

As was highlighted at last year’s inaugural International Maritime Human Rights conference in London by Phil Bloomer, the CEO of the London-based and internationally recognised Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, the maritime industry lags far behind other industries. This is why the promotion of the UNGPs is one of our charitable objectives and which itself is unique in the maritime charity sector.


shipStating there is no evidence of real excellence in terms of human rights practices within the current shipping industry is a huge statement, David, and one which will no doubt cause people to sit up and question your claim.  

I hope that it does. I want to be proved wrong. In many respects, I want Human Rights at Sea to effectively be put out of business because people are now integrating those very four words – ‘human rights at sea’ and its associated legal and soft law protections and remedies into their everyday working practices, their policies and their conversations in the boardroom. As I have said, this is about institutional change.


You have already mentioned the International Maritime Human Rights Conference, which was held in London on 14th September 2016. I understand it was the first you had organised. 

That’s right, Daniel. In fact, it was the first comprehensive international human rights conference for the global maritime sector, which in itself was remarkable. 

The inaugural conference brought together a large number of national and international stakeholders from across the human rights and business sector. It really was a huge gamble with our limited funds, but ultimately it was a great success. The team that put it together did an outstanding job, but it was a constant battle on one key front; achieving modest sponsorship to host and run it at first instance.

The irony is that we received no direct support from the shipping industry associations despite our best efforts, as there was apparently nothing in it for them. It was actually the Sailors’ Society’s coffee brand By Sea that stepped up to sponsor us, along with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation (NFFO) and a European fisheries group. Additional support was provided through some of the other welfare charities.

The plan moving forward is to hold it every other year, in order to make sure that developments within a two-year period are captured and showcased from across the sector. 


What more needs to be done to harness a greater knowledge sharing ethos across the maritime community, and what is Human Rights at Sea’s position within it?  

The reason the charitable sector is not as co-ordinated as it could be, is that it is not truly aligned and that knowledge, or rather information sharing, is often absent unless you are in a regulated clique. 

I have seen the very same issue many times over in the wider NGO community throughout Africa where collective and co-ordinated work is often and realistically impossible because charitable brands do not want to mix for fear of loss of prominence, or because their donors ensure a varying degree of funding control which hovers like the sword of Damocles over good people trying to undertake humanitarian work. The unpalatable truth is that charity sector is no different to the commercial sector, where knowledge provides power and advantage. 

Nevertheless, our unwavering position since our inception, and which we consistently publicly assert, is that our door is wide open to all who want to work with us for the common maritime good, whatever that may be. Being independent of direct influence is one of our strengths and one that we carefully guard. 

A very good example of our co-ordinated work and knowledge sharing with multiple organisations is in the central Mediterranean that has led to an innovative peer-reviewed guidance for the awareness of potential criminalisation of rescues at sea. This is as equally applicable to commercial vessels and their crews as it is to sea-borne NGOs. Additionally, we have published the first Mediterranean 

NGO Code of Conduct for Search and Rescue operations, peer reviewed by the International Maritime Rescue Federation who has IMO consultative status and which I presented to the European Parliament in March.


What would be your overarching message to the leading figures within the global shipping industry?  

Engage directly with us, especially for issues of business and human rights, sustainability and associated policy drafting and research work that we are now undertaking. We have a huge amount of experience to offer maritime businesses from a civil society perspective and which traditionally has been ignored as a source of information and support. 

We are also looking for two experienced persons to become Trustees; if you like what we do, want to know more, or are just curious, please do get in contact. We would be delighted to meet with you.

Our voluntary Supporting Entities and Collaborative Partnerships are constantly evolving with over 75 overt supporters at the last count. We also have a significant number of entities and key industry individuals who wish to remain anonymous, especially as they assist us to navigate the complex path through the maritime and fishing industries.


Hypothetically, if I was a leading figure at one of these shipping or fisheries companies, or a philanthropist with a chequebook, what tangible benefits would my funds bring to your charity’s work? 

Firstly, we would make our web platform multi-lingual, so we could then reach out across South East Asia, China, and into South America. That is fundamental, as at the moment all web content is in English. 

Recently, we have signed a modestly funded contract to help launch free e-learning materials in partnership with Marlins, the maritime e-learning provider. For example, Diversity and Inclusion at Sea is a course designed to increase awareness of diversity and create an environment of respect and inclusion between seafarers and we have published ‘Managing Traumatic Stress’ guidance. With extra funding, such essential guidance materials could be expanded into multiple languages, and be made available in both hard and soft copy. Further sponsorship would therefore develop our free educational provisions and platform to seafarers and fishermen.

Concurrent to the educational piece, is our ability to conduct objective investigations into abuses at sea and which costs a huge amount of both money and time for effectively lobbying with evidence. This is another key need besides our core running costs of circa £29k per annum. 


What are your key plans and objectives for growing the charity – and the message it sends out – in the future?

All I will say is, do take time to look at what we have achieved in just three years, taking a new charitable brand from start-up to being a leading platform with minimal funding and support; then extrapolate that forwards while watching our existing programmes and our delivery of independent guidance and learning materials. I believe the future to be very bright for the charity.