In the Netherlands, exploitation in the maritime sector seems to be increasing. In such cases, cheap workers are often brought into the Schengen area, pretending to be merchant seamen. They thereby avoid the obligation to have a working permit through the Strasbourg Treaty of 1977. Shipbrokers use this route to bring a very cheap workforce into the Schengen area. Often these people are underpaid and forced to work in terrible conditions.

In one case, border guards were asked by the maritime intelligence room to perform an extensive border check on two vessels under Russian flag that had arrived in the harbour of Scheveningen, near The Hague. The vessels sailed straight from Panama to the port of Scheveningen and spent more than two weeks at sea.

While performing the check, the border guards noticed that the crew was nervous and uncooperative. The crew, which turned out to be victims, could not show job contracts, nor the seamen identification documents that are needed to be able to work as a merchant seaman. Also, the crew members did not know who the owner of the vessels was. They stated they had no permission to supply the vessel with food, which meant they had lived on cake and water during their two-week journey. They had not been paid for months. The vessels were over-manned, which resulted in the victims having to share beds.

Furthermore, the vessels had changed their flag state from Russia to Lithuania. However, they were not certified to sail under the Lithuanian flag. Essential ship security certificates were not on board, like the certificate of registry and a minimal safe manning certificate. The victims had no endorsements for the Lithuanian flag, which meant they could not sail under this flag either.

Partners involved in the cooperation

  • Royal Netherlands Marechaussee: acted as border guards and enforced the Rules of the International Maritime Organisation and the Schengen border code.
  • Labour Inspectorate: inspected the vessels and the conditions under which the crew was working.

What makes this case successful?

Extensive knowledge of the applicable rules and regulations in the maritime sector ensured that the crew were quickly identified as victims of THB for labour exploitation. Also, the Lithuanian authorities were notified and could immediately share the information that the vessels and crew were not allowed to sail under their flag, making it easier to protect the victims.