Center for Seafarers' Rights: Intern Report

Aug 17, 2017

by Julianne Weidman

I am a student at Tulane University School of Law, going into the second year of my law degree. This summer, I had the privilege of serving as the Summer Legal Intern for the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) Center for Seafarers’ Rights (CSR), under the guidance of CSR Director, Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq. Through my work at SCI, I became immersed in the maritime community, making connections at industry events and outings, and interacting with the seafarers who are the backbone of international shipping, and therefore global and national economies.

I arrived at SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights with little relationship to the maritime industry other than an interest in human rights, international law, and the global economy, plus a love of the sea. Now, as a result of the internship, I hope to incorporate maritime work, pro bono or otherwise, in my professional career.

At first glance, a visitor passing by Port Newark, NJ might be taken aback by the stacks of containers, the abundance of trucks on the roads, and the giant industrial machines throughout the port area. Yet, working in the port has given me a greater appreciation for the people behind this industry: the men and women who transport goods by sea and move them to railways, roadways, and airplanes for delivery across the nation. The port teems with activity, and it is an activity that underpins the livelihoods of countless individuals.

I also spent time working in lower Manhattan, experiencing life in New York City at the Seafarers’ and International House. I had the chance to enjoy some of the culture, food, and hustle and bustle that are synonymous with this vibrant city.

This summer, my main project was to compile and analyze the 2017 Annual Shore Leave Report. I also received and drafted responses to legal complaints by seafarers. Furthermore, I researched and composed a legal guide for chaplains on how to handle complaints from seafarers of harassment and bullying. Through these undertakings, I learned about formulating better questions when conversing with seafarers, discerning the essence of a seafarer’s complaint, and honing my writing skills. I met many wonderful professionals in the maritime industry and received valuable wisdom on how to “network.” I read news articles, absorbing various aspects about the maritime, and I came to a realization: this, the maritime industry, is the one in which I want to work.

Some highlights of this summer included assisting with SCI’s 2017 Silver Bell Awards Dinner and Maritime Forum, attending the Marine Money ship finance conference for a day, visiting the Liberian Registry, spending two days with the United States Coast Guard, and visiting ships in Port Newark. Through all these events and experiences, I met many people from several fields within the maritime industry. I learned about topics such as: how P&I clubs and health professionals interact to protect seafarers and prevent liabilities for shipping companies; efforts to defend against cyber attacks in the shipping industry; the important role the USCG plays in protecting the environment and seafarers through inspecting vessels and investigating marine casualties; the process, methodology, and history behind Liberian flag registration; the types of projects with which law firms become involved in the maritime world; and the financial side of the maritime industry, including ship mortgaging, market projections, and investments. I also went aboard vessels such as container ships, roll-on/roll-off vessels (or “ro-ros”), ferries, and the “orange juice ship”, as it’s affectionately known, which regularly carries its cargo from South America to Port Newark and beyond.

However, the most important part of my summer was the day-to-day work with Director Doug Stevenson at the Center for Seafarers’ Rights. Each day brought fresh news of the challenges faced by seafarers, especially regarding wage issues, repatriation, maintenance and cure complaints (relating to a seafarer's right to medical and living expenses from his employer for any injury arising during the course of his employment.) Director Stevenson fostered my passion for advocacy, encouraging me to research legislation connected to maritime law and seafarers’ rights, delve into case law relating to seafarers’ legal complaints, and better communicate with international seafarers. This experience has shown me what I am truly driven by: service to my client and passion for advocacy. I will continue to cultivate these passions upon my return to Tulane.

To say I felt at home in the Center for Seafarers’ Rights this summer would misrepresent the powerful connection I felt towards the people I worked with, met, and served through my involvement with the Seamen’s Church Institute. SCI truly made me feel at home and part of a family during my internship.

I wish to thank Director Doug Stevenson for selecting me to be the 2017 Summer Legal Intern, the staff at Port Newark and the New York office for helping me acclimate to working at SCI and for being such amazing and kind people, the Seafarers’ and International House for hosting me for the summer, and the many seafarers and maritime professionals I met. This summer internship was a truly exceptional experience.