Nationality & Borders Bill - criminalisation of seafarers

Circular No: NP/009/22


Ref: S15/19/22

11th January 2022

Dear Colleagues

Nationality & Borders Bill – criminalisation of seafarers

I am writing to inform you of a significant development in the campaign to remove the threat to seafarers contained in the Tory Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

When it was introduced, your Union identified that this disgraceful piece of right-wing populism contained a new offence for those judged to have ‘facilitated’ an asylum claim in the UK. This would apply to seafarers working on a ship that transported, knowingly or unknowingly, an individual who subsequently claimed asylum in the UK. The Bill stated a maximum of life imprisonment for those found guilty.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS) and the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) oblige the ship’s master to render assistance to any person found in distress at sea. The UK is also bound by the IMO’s Search and Rescue Convention, 1979 which clearly states that: “Parties [seafarers] shall ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea. They shall do so regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found.”

In line with the NEC instruction, I wrote to the Transport Secretary and the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation to demand that this threat to my members’ rights and safety, particularly in the Channel was immediately removed. The Government replied to deny that seafarers were being criminalised and that the effect of the Bill on maritime law would be clarified in ‘policy guidance.’

Your Union also raised this matter with MPs in our Parliamentary Group and with other Unions through the TUC, including PCS who organise Border Force staff. RMT’s concerns were raised during the Commons Stages of the Bill. Last week, the Government tabled amendments in the Lords to remove the provisions your Union originally identified and campaigned against. The amendments were passed and seafarers are no longer under threat of a prison term for saving lives at sea.

We will continue to monitor the Nationality and Borders Bill as it goes through Parliament but fighting off the Johnson Government’s attempt to turn seafarers’ humane obligations into a political football is a welcome development for RMT members and their Union.

I would be grateful if you could bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all members in your Branch.

Yours sincerely


Michael Lynch
General Secretary