From Malboro Canal to Zero-Tolerance Transits

MACN Collective Action at Work in the Suez Canal

On International Anti-Corruption Day 2017, the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) is pleased to share significant progress on tackling corruption in the Suez Canal thanks to a two-year collective action.

Approximately ten percent of all global seaborne trade currently moves through the Suez Canal, and with the expansion of the Canal, trade volumes will likely increase. However, the Suez Canal has also been a consistent hot-spot for corruption, with Captains and crew facing regular demands for “facilitation payments” for passage or for routine services. As cigarettes are the most frequent form of demand, the Suez Canal has been referred to as the “Marlboro Canal” in media, and the US Coast Guard highlighted the problems in a report from 2014.

Incident data from MACN’s incident reporting mechanism also showed that demands in the Suez Canal can be accompanied by threats of retaliation to the Captain and ship if cigarettes are not provided to the authorities. Refusal of pilots to cooperate has led to heavy delays, making timely passage difficult.

To tackle challenges like this—and in particular, to reduce threats to the safety of crews—MACN launched a “Say No” campaign for the Suez Canal on International Anti-Corruption Day 2015. The campaign was a true collective effort, with MACN member companies agreeing to reject demands by using a coordinated zero tolerance policy, communication material, and an onboard toolkit for Captains developed by MACN. The campaign was piloted with a handful of companies after engagement with the Suez Canal authorities. Following positive results from the pilot, MACN agreed to make the collective action a permanent campaign.

Since the launch in 2015, MACN has assessed the impact of the campaign by surveying members and by collecting incident data. The situation has improved every year, and feedback in 2017 shows that companies taking part in the campaign are transiting Suez without any delays or issues. Demands for cigarettes have decreased dramatically or have even been eliminated, while threats to the safety of both crew and vessel have also decreased significantly.

Cecilia Müller Torbrand, MACN Program Director, commented: “Addressing this issue is a milestone for the whole maritime industry and we now encourage more industry players to follow. The campaign has not led to delays or threats, and many Captains have welcomed the initiative. The purpose of this campaign is not to name and shame anyone but to find constructive workable solutions to an industry problem.”

Müller Torbrand added: “It is however important for shipowners to prepare their Captains and offer support. Individual captains cannot bear full responsibility but must rather have the backing of the company”.

“The collective action has seen companies of all sizes, nationalities and industry segments successfully saying no. This clearly demonstrates that it is possible to say no by acting collectively and through committed leadership on integrity,” concluded Müller Torbrand.

Kevin Leach Smith, Vice President Operation, Masterbulk, has been monitoring the campaign closely with Masterbulk’s fleet and shares input from the frontline: “Explaining MACN and the company’s anti-corruption policy significantly reduces the risk of demands for cash or in-kind payments during transits. Our Captains are relieved of the pressure of dealing with these corrupt practices and can focus on the safe navigation of the vessel in the Canal. Overall, our vessels have had smooth transits and with the support of our agents they have rejected any type of demands”.