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Seafarers flock to historic ITF expo ahead of Day of the Seafarer

23 Jun 2023

ITF is a name recognised by seafarers the world over. Now, 5,000 people, seafarers and their families, will have the opportunity to speak with ITF inspectors, as well as legal, labour and health experts, when they pass through the gates of the largest-ever ITF Seafarers’ Expo being held in Manila this weekend.

The Expo opens today Friday 23 June and runs until Sunday 25 June - the official world Day of the Seafarer. Registrations for the free event were filled for Friday, but tickets remain available for Saturday and Sunday at 

The outdoor event will comprise a main stage and three activity tents allowing seafarers to choose an agenda that suits them.  

“I’m excited to be here in Manila, the heart of world’s seafaring capital, to welcome seafarers and their families to the ITF Seafarers’ Expo. This is a chance for them to learn more about the ITF, our affiliates, and about their rights and opportunities in a changing global maritime industry,” said Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

Cotton is opening the ITF Seafarers’ Expo alongside ITF union officials, political figures from host country the Philippines, and shipping industry leaders. This includes AMOSUP President Dr Conrado Oca, ALU-PSU National President Michael Mendoza, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers Hon. Susan “Toots” V Ople, and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives – Hon. Raymond Democrito C Mendoza, as well as the International Chamber of Shipping Vice Chair Gerardo A. Borromeo, and the International Maritime Employers Council Chair Belal Ahmed.

“We welcome our sisters and brothers, friends, allies and social partners to be here to celebrate our seafarers. Seafarers move the world, and it’s appropriate that these key workers receive the recognition, respect and thanks they deserve for their vital contribution to global supply chains,” said Cotton.

Opening ceremony of ITF Seafarers' Expo 2023, 23 June | (Credit: ITF)

Philippines focus for global Expo

Jacqueline Smith, ITF Maritime Coordinator, said it was no coincidence that the Expo was being held in Manila, “the world’s single largest provider of seafarers to the international merchant fleet.” 

The Expo comes at an important time for the Philippines with an increased focus on decarbonisation and the need to ensure that seafarers are properly educated and trained for a Just Transition. 

“Actions that the government of the Philippines take now will make a difference going forward for its future as a global maritime leader, not only on immediate training needs but on Just Transition, too. We have been impressed with the government’s willingness to engage with employers and seafarers’ unions, but more action is needed to secure the future for Filipino seafarers,” said Smith.

This has support from ITF Filipino affiliates the Associated Labour Unions (ALU), the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), the Associated Philippine Seafarers’ Union (APSU) and the Port Workers’ Union of the Philippines (PWUP). The Expo is a truly international affair with representatives attending from the All Japan Seaman’s Union (JSU), the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union (NSU) and German union, ver.di.

Seafarers who won raffle prizes on the opening day of the ITF Seafarers' Expo 2023. | (Credit: ITF)

Inspectors explain rights as Flags of Convenience campaign turns 75

The event will also mark the 75th anniversary of the ITF’s Flags of Convenience (FOC) campaign, with more than a dozen ITF inspectors brought to Manila from across the world to explain to seafarers their rights when working on board FOC vessels.

Some shipowners choose to register their ships in a country with which they have no connection, in the expectation of receiving little or no regulatory oversight. The ITF is categorically against this practice as it often results in seafarers suffering abuses of their rights.

In 2022, there were 118 ships being abandoned by their owners with crews being left unpaid for months on end and often without necessary supplies of fuel, food and water. Many were unable to get home. Out of the vessels officially declared abandoned in 2022, 77% were registered in a FOC register. Filipinos were the most-abandoned nationality.

“The ITF Inspectorate is in a constant struggle with shipowners who dodge their responsibilities on seafarers’ rights,” said Steve Trowsdale, the ITF Inspectorate Coordinator. “In our experience, the FOC system is often at the root of the problem and seafarers should be aware that if they work on a FOC ship, they are likely to have a poorer level of protection, despite our best efforts.”

The ITF maintains a list of countries designated as Flags of Convenience. As well as making seafarers aware of the perils of the FOC system, the Expo also aims to raise awareness of the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC – 2006, as amended), which is designed to protect seafarers’ basic rights. The MLC has been ratified by 101 countries around the world, giving crew protection along the coasts of most countries.

“We want seafarers to understand the provisions of the MLC,” said Trowsdale, “because it puts them in a much better position to fight for their rights.”

The final day of the event is Sunday 25 June –  International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) official Day of the Seafarer. The day’s purpose is to recognise the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole. 

Speakers at ITF Seafarers’ Expo 2023:

  • Mr. Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary
  • Ms Jacqueline Smith, ITF Maritime Coordinator
  • Dr. Conrado Oca, President, Associated Marine Officer’s and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP)
  • Mr. Michael Democrito Mendoza, President, Associated Philippine Seafarers’ Union (APSU)
  • Vice-Admiral Eduardo Ma R Santos, Executive Vice President, Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP)
  • Hon. Susan “Toots” V Ople, Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers, Government of the Republic of the Philippines
  • Hon. Raymond Democrito C Mendoza, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines; President, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP)
  • Mr. Gerardo A Borromeo, Vice Chair, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)
  • Capt Belal Ahmed, Chairman, International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC); Managing Director, Western Shipping


About the ITF:  The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a global, democratic, affiliate-led movement of 740 transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 153 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the 20 million transport workers who move the world.