News

May 31, 2019

Death of Second Officer Ravindu Lakmal Pieris Telge on board Maersk Patras

May 28, 2019

 

VIA MAIL & EMAIL

The Honourable Marc Garneau

Minister of Transport

330 Sparks Street

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0N5

 

Dear Minister Garneau:

 

Re: Death of Second Officer Ravindu Lakmal Pieris Telge on board Maersk Patras

 

I write on behalf of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (“SIU”) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (“ITF”). The SIU represents the majority of unlicensed sailors working aboard vessels on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, on the East Coast, West Coast, and Arctic Regions. The SIU is affiliated with the ITF, a democratic global federation of 670 trade unions, in 147 countries, representing 19.7 million working men and women in all transport sectors.

 

On May 19, 2019, Second Officer Ravindu Lakmal Pieris Telge was tragically killed after falling overboard while unlashing containers on board the Singapore-flagged Maersk Patras. The vessel was underway in the St. Lawrence River, north-east of the junction with the Saguenay River, near Les Escoumins. Brother Telge was unlashing using a metal bar weighing 23 kilograms and measuring four and a half metres long. While performing the container unlashing duties to which he was assigned, the unlashing bar swayed, and the momentum of that action took the second officer over the side and into the River below.

 

The practice of unlashing containers on vessels bound for the Port of Montreal should never be done by seafarers. Lashing and unlashing is dockers’ work. The Port of Montreal and Transport Canada have been warned against permitting this work to be done by seafarers by both the ITF and affiliated Unions for years. Cargo operations in Port is precarious work even in the most ideal conditions and permitting seafarers to do this work at sea while underway, in an effort to offset costs under the guise of “efficiency”, has led to the death of a 31-year old Sri Lankan seafarer.

 

Transport Canada claims that this practice is tolerated and is deemed acceptable because the activity takes place in what it defines as sheltered waters. Beginning in early 2017, the ITF and numerous affiliated Canadian labour unions, contacted Transport Canada to discuss issues that had occurred on board multiple vessels operating under ITF agreements wherein accidents were reported during lashing operations onboard vessels that were underway en-route to the Port of Montreal. To our knowledge, no response was received to the multiple letters sent.

 

As you are already aware, the ITF and affiliates then hosted a meeting with the regional directors of Transport Canada and other officials in Montreal in April 2018 to discuss the dangers of lashing / unlashing containers during transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway and provided documentary evidence to Transport Canada officials revealing that there were multiple instances where accidents had occurred and caused harm or put at risk the lives of seafarers working on board the vessels included in their report. In that same report, Canadian Longshore unions made clear that this work was only safe when done by professionals who were trained to do this work when a vessel was in port and that it should not be done by seafarers who were unfamiliar with the work and operating in dangerous conditions, while underway. Captains, officers and ratings all reported that they were uncomfortable with this operation, that is was not the norm for them and that they felt it was putting their safety at risk.

 

The Port of Montreal claims it has no jurisdictional authority over this operation and that the responsibility of regulations lay entirely with Transport Canada and yourself, as Minister. After years of ignoring the call to prohibit unlashing / lashing of vessels in transit on the St. Lawrence Seaway, your office and the Department must take immediate steps to ensure this tragedy is the last to occur as a result of this dangerous and inconceivable lack of regulation which so obviously comes at the behest of thoughtless and irresponsible shipowners and port officials who are more concerned with turnaround times than the safety of workers.

 

Quite literally, this accident would not have occurred if Transport Canada had taken action when called upon to do so in the years prior to this tragic event and banned this operation on vessels underway. We mourn for the family, friends and shipmates of the deceased. May this tragic accident serve as a brutal reminder of the necessity for proper regulatory intervention from Government and the horrible result that can occur from a lack thereof.

 

The Seafarers’ International Union of Canada calls upon you, in your capacity as Minister of Transport, to immediately launch a public investigation into the lashing / unlashing of containerized cargo along the St. Lawrence Seaway, in order to determine whether the death of Second Officer Telge was preventable had this work not taken place on a vessel underway bound for the Port of Montreal.

 

I look forward to your immediate response,

 

Yours truly,

 

James Given
President, Seafarers’ International Union of Canada
200-1333, rue St-Jacques
Montréal, Québec, H3C 4K2
T 514-931-7859
F 514-931-3667

 

cc:

Michael Keenan, Deputy Minister, Transport Canada (Michael.keenan@tc.gc.ca)

Jane Weldon, Director General, Marine Safety & Security, Transport Canada (jane.weldon@tc.gc.ca)

Naim Nahza, Executive Director, Navigation Safety & Environmental Programs, Transport Canada (naim.nazha@tc.gc.ca)

Albert Deschamps, Regional Director General – Quebec, Transport Canada (albert.deschamps@tc.gc.ca)

Louise Laflamme, Chief, Marine Policy & Regulatory Affairs, Transport Canada (louise.laflamme@tc.gc.ca)

Christopher Berzins, Director of Policy & Parliamentary Affairs, Minister’s Office, Transport Canada (chrisotpher.berzins@tc.gc.ca)

Shane McCloskey, Senior Special Assistant, Minister’s Office, Transport Canada (shane.mccloskey@tc.gc.ca)

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary, ITF

Paddy Crumlin, President, ITF

Jacqueline Smith, Maritime Coordinator, ITF

David Heindel, Chair, Seafarers’ Section, ITF

Patrice Caron, Executive Vice-President, SIU Canada

Charles Etienne-Aubry, Vice-President, St. Lawrence & East Coast, SIU Canada

Vince Giannopoulos, ITF Inspector, Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway, SIU Canada

Chris Given, Director of Government Relations, SIU Canada