Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 547 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
LAWS RELATING TO SEAMEN. In most legal systems legislation has interfered to protect the seaman from the con-sequences of that imprudence which is generally supposed to be one of his distinguishing characteristics. In the United Kingdom legislation has dealt with the interests of seamen with unusual fulness of detail, proving the care bestowed by a maritime power upon those to whom its commercial success is so largely due. How far this legislation has had the efficiency which was expected may be doubtful. For legislative purposes seamen may be divided into three classes—seamen in the royal navy, merchant seamen, and fishermen. Seamen in the Royal Navy.—It is still lawful to impress men for the naval service (see IMPRESSMENT), subject to certain exemptions (13 Geo. II. c. 17, 1740); Among persons exempt are seamen in the merchant service. In cases of emergency officers and men of the coastguard and revenue cruisers, seamen riggers and pensioners may be required to serve in the navy (Naval Volunteers Act 1853). There appears to be no other instance (now that balloting for the militia is suspended) where a subject may be forced into the service of the crown against his will. The navy is, however, at the present day wholly recruited by voluntary enlistment (see the Naval Enlistment Acts, 1835 to 1884). Special advantages are afforded by the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 to merchant seamen enlisting in the navy. They are enabled to leave their ship without punishment or forfeiture in order to join the naval service. The discipline of the navy is, unlike that of the army, for which an annual act is necessary, regulated by a permanent act of parliament, that now in force being the Naval Discipline Act 1866. In addition to numerous hospitals and infirmaries in the United Kingdom and abroad, the great charity of Greenwich Hospital is a mode of provision for old and disabled seamen in the navy. At present such seamen are out-pensioners only; the hospital has been for some years used as the Royal Naval College for officer students. The enactments of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854 as to savings banks are extended to seamen in the navy by the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, s. 148. Enlistment without the licence of the crown in the naval service of a foreign state at war with another foreign state that is at peace with the United Kingdom is an offence punishable under the Foreign Enlistment Act 187o. Any person buying from a seaman or enticing a seaman to sell government property is liable to penalties under the Seamen's Clothing Act 1869 (see Navy). Merchant Seamen.—Most of the acts dealing with this subject, commencing with 8 Eliz. c. 13, were repealed in 1854 and have since been consolidated and extended by the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 and 1906,' the act of 1894 being the longest act on the statute roll. The main part of the legislation affecting seamen in the merchant service occurs in the second part of the act of 1894 and the fourth part of the act of 1906. The act of 1894 defines a seaman to be " every person (except masters, pilots, and apprentices duly indentured and registered) employed or engaged in any capacity on board any ship " (s. 742). The act of 1894 is largely a re-enactment of the previous acts of 1854, 1862 and 1876. The law as to the engagement and discharge Engage- of seamen has not been altered. These must take place Engaged before a- superintendent only when the employment is discharge on a foreign-going ship. If the ship is a home-trade ship, otSeamen. the signing on and discharge take place before a super- intendent only if the master so desire. But if the signing on does not take place before a superintendent, the master must cause the agreement to he read and explained to the seaman, and the ' There are numerous Orders in Council dealing with seamen, especially as to the registration of fishing boats and the lights to be shown by them. xXiv. 18 the Slave Trade Acts. A riotous assembly of seamen to prevent the loading or unloading of any ship or to prevent others from working is an offence under 33 Geo. III. c. 67. Deserters from Portuguese ships are punishable by 12 and 13 Vict. c. 25, and from any foreign ship by 15 and 16 Vict. c. 26, by virtue of conventions with Portugal and other foreign powers. The rating of seamen is now regulated by the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, s. 126. By that act a seaman is not entitled to the rating of " A.B." unless he has served four years before the mast, or three years or more in a registered decked fishing vessel and one year at sea in a trading vessel. The act of 1894 enables contributions to seamen's refuges and hospitals to be charged upon the mercantile marine fund. There appears, however, to be no grant in support of seamen's hospitals out of any public funds. The principal seamen's hospital is that at Greenwich, established in I821 and incorporated by 3 and 4 Will. IV. c. 9 under the name of " The Seaman's Hospital Society." Up to 187o this hospital occupied the old " Dreadnought " at Greenwich, but in that year it obtained the infirmary of Greenwich Hospital from the Admiralty at a nominal rent, in return for which a certain number of beds is to be at the disposal of the Admiralty. This hospital with others is supported by voluntary contributions, including those of many foreign governments. At one time there was an enforced contribution of sixpence a month from the pay of masters and seamen towards the funds of Greenwich Hospital, levied under the powers of some of the Greenwich Hospital Acts. The payment of these contributions enabled them to receive annuities from the funds of the hospital. These " Greenwich Hospital sixpences," however, became the source of very considerable irritation and were discontinued. In their place a purely voluntary sea-men's provident fund was established, its object being to persuade seamen to subscribe sixpence a month towards the seamen's hospital. The remedies of the seaman for wages are an ordinary action in the king's bench division or plaint in a county court, an action in Remedies rem or in personam in the admiralty division of the High wages. Court (in Scotland in the Court of Session), a colonial r court of admiralty, or a county court having admiralty jurisdiction, or summary proceedings before justices, naval courts, or superintendents of mercantile marine offices. The master has now the same remedies as the seaman for his wages, under which are included all disbursements made on account of the ship. At common law he had only a personal action against the owner. He has the additional advantage of being able to ensure his wages, which a seaman cannot do. A county court having admiralty jurisdiction may entertain claims for wages where the amount claimed does not exceed £150 [County Courts (Admiralty Jurisdiction) Act 1868, s. 31. Wages cannot be attached. They may be forfeited or reduced by desertion, smuggling, and other kinds of misconduct. In O'Neil v. Armstrong, 1895, 2 K.B. 418, it was held by the court of appeal that a seaman, though he had not completed the voyage, could recover his full wages where war breaking out added a risk to the employment which was not in his contemplation at the time of his engagement. In actions in all courts of admiralty jurisdiction the seaman has a maritime lien on the ship and freight, ranking next after claims for salvage and damage. The amount recoverable summarily before justices is limited to £ o. Orders may be enforced by distress of the ship and her tackle. Proceedings must be taken within six months. A naval court on a foreign station may determine questions as to wages without limit of amount.' As a rule a seaman cannot sue abroad for wages due for a voyage to terminate in the United Kingdom. The superintendent of a mercantile marine office has power to decide any question whatever between a master or owner and any of his crew which both parties in writing agree to submit to him. These summary remedies are all preserved by the act of 1894. The act further provides that, where a question as to wages is raised before a superintendent, if the amount in question does not exceed £5, the superintendent may adjudicate finally, unless he is of opinion that a court of law ought to decide it. The Merchant Seamen Act 188o, by a section not repealed by the act of 1894, and the Workmen's Compensation Act 1906, put seamen on a level with other workmen. A county court or court of summary jurisdiction (the latter limited to claims not exceeding Do) may under the act of 1875 determine all disputes between an employer and workman arising out of their relation as such. The jurisdiction of courts of summary jurisdiction is protected by the enactment of the act of 1894, that no proceeding for the recovery of wages under £5o is to be instituted in a superior court unless either the owner of the ship is bankrupt, or the ship is under arrest or sold by the authority of such court, or the justices refer the case to such court, or neither owner nor master is or resides within 20 M. of the place where the seaman is put ashore. Claims upon allotment notes may be brought in all county courts and before justices without any limit as to amount. In Scotland the sheriff court has concurrent jurisdiction with justices in claims for wages and upon allotment notes. The In the absence of appeal the order of a naval court is conclusive. Hutton v. Ras S.S. Co., 1907, I K.B. 834. By s. 68 of the act of 1906 an appeal lies to the High Court of Justice.representatives of a deceased seaman may claim damages for his death in cases within the Fatal Accidents Acts 1846 and 1864. It has been held that the action lies where the deceased is a foreign seaman on a foreign ship (Davidsson v. Hill, 1901, 2 K.B. 606). Where a seaman is discharged before a superintendent in the United Kingdom, his wages must be paid through or in the presence of the superintendent, and in the case of home-trade ships may be so paid if the master or owner so desire. The master must in every case deliver either to the superintendent or to the seaman a full account, in a form approved by the Board of Trade, of the wages and of all deductions therefrom; such deductions will only be allowed if they have been entered by the master during the voyage in a book kept for that purpose, together with a statement of the matters in respect of which they are made. Where a seaman is left abroad on the ground of his unfitness or inability to proceed on the voyage, the account of wages must be delivered to the superintendent, chief officer of customs, consular officer, or merchants, from whom the master obtains the certificate without which he may not leave the seaman behind. To protect seamen from crimps, advance notes, or documents authorizing or promising the future payment of money on account of a seaman's wages conditionally on his going to sea from any port of the United Kingdom, and made before those wages had been earned, were from 188o to 1889 "wholly void. No money paid in respect of any such document could be deducted from a seaman's wages. Since 1889 this restriction has been removed to the extent of one month's wages, provided that the agreement with the crew contains a stipulation for such advance, but this does not extend to cases where the seaman is going to sea from any port not in the United Kingdom. In such cases there is no limitation upon the right to make any agreement for advances or to make advances to any amount. As under the former law, the scale of provisions as amended by the act of 1906 must be entered in the agreement with the crew, and compensation made for short or bad provisions, and means are provided whereby the crew can raise complaints. In addition, in the case of ships trading or going from any port in the United Kingdom through the Suez Canal or round the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn, the provisions and water are put under inspection by the Board of Trade, and if they are deficient, the ship may be detained until the defects are remedied. By the act of 1906 a certificated cook must be provided for foreign-bound ships. If a seaman receives hurt or injury in the service of the ship, the expense of medical attendance and maintenance, together with the cost of bringing him home, is to be borne by the owner of the ship, and cannot be deducted from wages. The safety of the crew is aimed at by provisions which are de-signed to prevent overloading and undermanning, and generally to prevent ships from being sent to sea in an unseaworthy Load line. state. The stringency of these provisions has been much increased. Life-saving appliances, according to a scale and rules prescribed by the Board of Trade, must be carried by every British ship. Except where the ship is under 8o tons register, employed solely in the coasting trade, or is employed solely in fishing, or is a pleasure yacht, the position of each deck above water must be marked by conspicuous lines, and the maximum load line in salt water, to which it shall be lawful to load the ship, must be marked at such level as may be approved by the Board of Trade below the deck line, and in accordance with tables and regulations prescribed by the Board of Trade. It is this load line which is commonly known as the Plimsoll mark. It is an offence to load a ship so as to submerge the load line, and a ship so loaded may be detained as unsafe. Dangerous goods, e.g. explosives, must not be shipped or carried without being distinctly marked as such. Timber must not be carried on deck in the winter months. In the carriage of grain cargoes, rules prescribed by the Board of Trade to prevent shifting must be complied with. The officers of the Board of Trade (subject to appeal to a court of survey from an order of final detention) have power to detain a ship which is, by reason of the defective condition of the hull, equipments or machinery, or of undermanning, overloading or improper loading, unfit to proceed to sea without serious danger to human life. Provision is made for the investigation of complaints by seamen that a ship is unfit to proceed to sea. The Public Health Act 1904 enables regulations to be made for carrying into effect international conventions as to insanitary vessels and conveyance of infection by vessels. By s. II of the Workmen's Compensation Act 1906, a ship may be detained by order of a court of record on allegation that a foreign owner is liable to pay compensation under the act. The manning of British merchant ships has received much consideration, but has hitherto been little affected by statute law. The effect of the acts is thus given in the report, issued in 1896, by a Board of Trade committee on the manning of merchant ships: " Since the final repeal of the Navigation Laws, which required that the master and three-fourths of the crew of every British ship should be British subjects, and reserved the coasting trade entirely to Manning of British ships. British ships and British seamen, the whole world has been open as a recruiting ground to British shipowners, who have not been hampered in their selection by any restriction as to colour, language, qualification, age or strength. Except with regard to certificates, which must be held by masters, officers, and engineers in certain cases, and which, moreover, may be obtained by men of any nationality, there is at present practically no bar to the employment of any person of any nationality in any capacity whatsoever on board any British ship." The Merchant Shipping Act 1897 gave power to the Board of Trade to detain ships unseaworthy by reason of undermanning, but prescribed no rules for determining when a ship is to be deemed to be under-manned. Apart from that act the law does not interfere with the number of qualifications of the crew. Nearly one-fourth the seamen employed on British ships are foreigners. Another fourth are Lascars. The figures in 1904, as given by Mr Lloyd-George in introducing the bill of 1906 in the House of Commons, were 176,000 British subjects, 39,000 aliens, 42,000 Lascars. Aliens serving on British ships may by a regulation of the home secretary (29th of April 1904) be naturalized without fee. The act of 1go6 (s. 12) provided that after the 31st of December 1907 no seaman may be shipped who does not possess a sufficient knowledge of the English language to understand necessary orders, with an exception in favour of Lascars and inhabitants of a British protectorate. Pilotage certificates are not to be granted unless to British masters and mates (s. 73). Certificates of competency as masters, mates, and engineers are granted by the Board of Trade. Such certificates are for the following grades, viz. master or first mate, or second mate, or only Certi i- mate of a foreign-going ship, master or mate of a home- cedes of trade passenger ship, first or second class engineer. By masters, virtue of Orders in Council under section 102 of the act of mates and 18 , certificates granted in many of the British colonies engineers. have the same force as if granted by the Board of Trade. The following are the requirements of the act as to the officers to be carried by ships :—Masters: A properly certificated master must be carried by every foreign-going ship and every home-trade passenger ship, whatever their tonnage. Mates: A mate, with the certificate of the grade of first or only mate, or master, must, in addition to the certificated master, be carried by every foreign-going ship of Too tons or upwards, unless more than one mate is carried, in which case the first and second mates must have valid certificates appropriate to their several stations on such ship or of a higher grade; and a mate, with a certificate of the grade of first or only mate or master, must, in addition to the certificated master, be carried by every home-trade passenger ship of 100 tons or upwards. Engineers: Every foreign-going steamship of too nominal horse power or upwards must have two certificated engineers—the first possessing a first-class engineer's certificate, and the second possessing a second-class engineer's certificate, or a certificate of the higher grade. Every other foreign-going steamship, and every sea-going home-trade passenger steamship, is required to carry as the first or only engineer an engineer having a second-class certificate, or a certificate of the higher grade. Vessels in the home trade (i.e. United Kingdom and continent of Europe between the Elbe and Brest) are not required to carry certificated masters or officers unless they are passenger ships of too tons or upwards; and vessels in the foreign trade of less than loo tons are not required to carry any mate. . In 1898 a slight attempt was made to encourage shipowners 'to carry apprentices. The Merchant Shipping Act of that year, which dealt with light dues, provided that " on proof appren- to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade that a British ttceshtp. ship has during any financial year carried, in accordance with the scale and regulations to be made by the Board of Trade, with the concurrence of the Treasury, boys between the ages of 15 and 19, there shall be paid to the owner of the ship, out of moneys to be provided by parliament, an allowance not exceeding one-fifth of the light dues paid during that year in respect of that ship. Provided that no such payment shall be made in respect of_ anybody unless he has enrolled himself in the Royal Naval Reser 'e, and entered into an obligation to present himself for service when called upon in accordance with rules to be issued by the Admiralty." This enactment was to continue until 19 and does not seem to have been renewed. Some more efficient means will have to be devised if apprenticeship to the sea service is to be revived; at present it has practically ceased to exist, except in the case of boys who intend to become officers.

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.