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Captain Andrzej Lasota was detained – unconvicted - in a Mexican prison for two years. On the day of his release, Cyprus SDM highlights the need for change in the criminalisation of captains onboard vessels.

In July 2019, the crew of the UBC Savannah, commanded by Captain Andrzej Lasota, found almost 240 kilograms of cocaine within the hold while discharging cargo at the Mexican port of Altamira. The Captain informed the authorities and investigations commenced. All crew members were gradually released during September 2019, except Captain Lasota who remained detained in a high security prison for two years – without being convicted.

Due to the deteriorating state of Captain Lasota’s health and the lengthiness of the court proceedings, the issue became a serious humanitarian concern. Cyprus has always been committed to prioritising seafarer welfare, and in its capacity as the vessel’s Flag State, Cyprus SDM provided diplomatic protection to the vessel’s master and crew.

In coordination with the shipowner and the family of Captain Lasota, Cyprus made repeated diplomatic efforts asking for a fair trial, as well as informing all the relevant European Commission services, asking for their support and involvement. Representations to the Government of Mexico were also made by non-governmental shipping organisations such as the International Chamber of Shipping, International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs, BIMCO and InterManager.

On Captain Lasota’s release, Vassilios Demetriades, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister, commented:

“The case of the UBC Savannah and of its master, Captain Andrzej Lasota, raises a broader, and very concerning, issue; the criminalisation of captains. The basic human rights of seafarers are violated when they are detained for prolonged periods of time, even though they did not voluntarily commit any crime. Seafarers serving on board vessels can only be held accountable for their errors or voluntary actions contributing to or causing the event in the first place, and not for aspects which are beyond what can reasonably be considered as being within their purview and control.

“We are extremely relieved that Captain Lasota is able to return to his family after two years of extreme hardship. But we must continue to recognise and act on the issues relating to the criminalisation of captains that it highlights. We remain fully committed to working together with the IMO and European Parliament to make global progress on this issue.”

The matter of “fair treatment of seafarers detained on suspicion of committing maritime crimes” was extensively discussed during the deliberations of the 107th Session of the IMO Legal Committee and Cyprus continues to collaborate with other organisations at a regional and global level to prioritise seafarer welfare.