NEW Zealand’s transport minister Michael Wood has confirmed a forthcoming legislative change to the Maritime Transport Act for long-term and sustainable funding of seafarer’s centres.

This follows the international report issued by NGO Human Rights at Sea in April 2020, supporting the New Zealand Seafarers’ Welfare Board’s efforts to achieve this change.

The MTA is the primary vehicle for implementing international maritime obligations, including those arising from the Maritime Labour Convention 2006. Maritime levies on shipping under the MTA can be used for a wide range of shipping-related purposes, however, those purposes do not include seafarer welfare services.

The NZ government has made changes to the MTA which will remedy the situation and enable maritime levies to fund seafarer welfare services for the purposes of the MLC. This will be effective from 1 July 2021.

In a letter received by the charitable NGO, the minister made a number of key points updating the government’s position.

He wrote, “COVID-19 impacts on seafarer welfare have drawn attention to the financial pressures faced by the Seafarer Welfare Board, the voluntary organisation whose activities fulfil New Zealand’s seafarer welfare obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006.”

The MLC envisages that financial support for welfare services be shared across the maritime sector through measures such as levies from shipping sources, grants from public funds and voluntary industry and charitable contributions.

“The challenges of providing welfare services in a COVID-19 environment have highlighted the need for a more secure funding approach,” the minister said.

“I am pleased to note that the government has also provided interim funding for SWBNZ pending the amendments to the MTA.”

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Through this funding the SWBNZ has achieved the following:

• From September to November 2020, SWBNZ visited and provided support services to seafarers on more than 800 ships, which represents 94% of all ships that have entered New Zealand waters over this period.

• SBWNZ has ensured that portable Wi-Fi units are made available for ships calling at New Zealand ports and has provided a Wi-Fi connection to 794 ships.

• There are now seven paid SWBNZ staff around New Zealand including a national co-ordinator role to ensure consistent delivery of services.

• SWBNZ staff have had 756 interactions with seafarers, and visited over 300 stores to purchase essential items for seafarers.

David Hammond from HRAS said, “The New Zealand government’s stated commitment to permanently address the issue of sustainable funding for seafarer welfare centres should be congratulated.

“The proposed legislative change on 1 July 2021 will be closely watched by the maritime industry, states, UN agencies and civil society.”

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