Collective effort

Collective effort

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We work in two key areas. Firstly, we help shipping companies internally by building their capacity and preparedness to resist corruption in ports and other parts of the maritime supply chain. Secondly, we cooperate with, and provide advice to, the national and local authorities to combat corruption in their areas of operational responsibility. Experience has shown us
that when fighting systemic corruption, initial results are good, but it takes time to change local norms which have been practised for centuries. But every little effort helps

Martin Benderson is Head of Collective Action and Partnerships at the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN). A small organisation located in Copenhagen, but one which is creating a huge impact on a global problem in the maritime supply chain: Civil servants in all kinds of positions, demanding money, cigarettes, or whisky before they execute the job for which

they are paid to do. Corruption, bribery, or ‘favours’ – there are many different names for this phenomenon. It costs, it scares, and threatens the security of both the vessel and the crew on board. In 2012, a number of people and private companies came together to find a way to eliminate a problem which for too long was seen as just part of the day-to-day business of shipping. The result was the formation of MACN.

Make it embarrassing

“We had identified some global ‘corruption hot spots’ for shipping, and the Suez Canal was among them. We heard anecdotes about vessels that were ordered to pull out of the Canal transit queue, having to wait a whole week just because they could not provide the correct brand of cigarette demanded

by an official. Obviously, this is unacceptable. But for the shipping industry, the question was: How do you start the process of change?”

“We started by making an Incident Reporting Mechanism (IRM) for vessels and shipping companies,” Benderson continues. “This was a way for affected ships and companies to anonymously highlight incidents of corrupt demands. Today, we have received more than 30,000 incident reports globally. We know where corrupt demands are made, and we know how the system works among pilots, port authorities, and even higher-ranking official representatives of the local government. The IRM was a critical part of this process. It meant there was hard data to point to, authorities couldn’t say ‘we don’t have a problem’ or ‘there is
no evidence of corruption.’ The IRM really put the spotlight on a problem which was typically hidden.”

In 2015, MACN started a collective action initiative with some 15 larger shipping companies. “We developed a ‘Say No’ strategy where we trained ship Captains to reject corrupt demands, and

developed a tool kit to support and help implement the campaign on board. We printed posters that were displayed in key areas of a vessel. The pilots or officials coming onboard couldn’t avoid this very clear message. We made leaflets with the same message. The Captain could simply point to a poster to show that he was not allowed to pay anything extra for what should be business as usual or a special service. We also advised all companies that were part of the initiative to establish clear escalation channels for the Captain to report and receive support from

the company if a challenging situation onboard should arise. We found that, in general, the official demanding a bribe would give in if the Captain consistently insisted that he was not allowed to give them anything at all,” Martin Benderson explains.

The agents

Local agents are hired by shipping companies, and they typically sit in a position between the vessels and the local authorities. They play a vital role in empowering a captain to reject demands. Agents are able to inform operators about the pressures for payment a captain can expect, and even possible risk exposure for the crew and ship. According to Benderson, there needs to be a good common understanding between the company, captains, and crew of the role
an agent can play in situations like this. However, for these agents, this is also a very delicate role, Benderson says.
“The agents are positioned in between the vessel and the guys in the port when bribery occurs. Often key officials, sitting in the background, push an agent in front of them, making the agent explain to the Captain that if an extra fee is not paid, the vessel will be punished in one way or another. For this reason, MACN has included the agents in our efforts to combat corruption.”


The results in Suez have proved that collective action can be highly effective. From a situation where there were requests for cigarettes in 95 percent of MACN member transits, now you hardly hear about any such requests made to the MACN members in the Suez Canal. “A new approach has arrived, there is no uncertainty about the rejection of corrupt demands, and the relevant officials are now doing their job without hesitation

or threat of illegal delay for the passing vessels,” Benderson reports.

Take time – but it helps

It takes time to change an economic system and culture that includes corruption. For many portside employees, this has been a necessary extra income due to typically low salaries. But this cannot be a problem that a Captain or company should solve by being forced to make illegal payments. These kinds of topics must be addressed at employer level and solved by the employer and the employees alone.

Even if MACN can prove good results, there is still a whole lot left to be done, Benderson continues.

“In Mumbai, India, we have starteda project in close cooperation with the authorities from the Ministry of Transportation, Customs, and the port administration. Commencing an anti-corruption programme with official support is the preferred way
to conduct any project to challenge ingrained behaviour in a corruptive system. Additionally, we have some 10 to 15 countries on our ‘hot spot list’ where we are looking at putting in place collective actions. We are looking at similar strategies to combat problems with corruption in ports in Indonesia, Malaysia and Ukraine. We have a lot to do, but we have seen that it helps to combat corruption as a coordinated collective group. In the end, it is economically beneficial for all parties involved to eliminate corruption – both on shore, onboard, for the shipping industry at large.”