When the ITF loses someone, the hole in our hearts and in our organization can’t always be measured by the size of their job title. With the loss Geoff Ablett on 31 January, the hole ripped in the heart of our Federation is immeasurable, because of the brother that Geoff was to all of us and to the world's seafarers.
Geoff joined the Special Seafarers Department in 1988 under the leadership Brian Laughton and Ake Selander. Brian had wanted to recruit an actual seafarer to what was then known as the Actions Unit. Geoff was ideal for the job. He went to sea at age 16 on international trading vessels. When he joined the ITF some 15 years later, he brought with him a world of lived experience on board, a keen eye for spotting injustice in shipping, and a finely developed commitment to progressive trade-union principles. For three decades, these tools would prove invaluable to both the world’s seafarers and to the ITF.
At the ITF, he met Teresa Kennedy, already a veteran in the struggle for seafarers’ rights. As they marched through life together, the pair were invincible and inseparable partners in the struggle for workers rights and in their commitment to each other and their son Gary.
Before there was an ITF Inspectors induction program, there was Geoff and Teresa — and sometimes their brother, John Wood. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Geoff and Teresa had a flat at Maritime House in Clapham, where the ITF also had a number of flats. It would be impossible to calculate how many new inspectors and new staff members, joining other Sections of the ITF on secondment, that Geoff and Teresa took under their wing. They helped them develop the skills required to stand up to shipowners and did much to ease life for those staying on to find their way in London.
Geoff was always the man you saw in front of you. He was generous, genuine, brave, principled — and sometimes stubborn. His life served as a model for those he mentored directly or indirectly, and there were hundreds of us. But Geoff also supported hundreds of thousands of seafarers directly, either himself or through the experts he mentored over the years.
Geoff served under three General Secretaries, including Harold Lewis, David Cockcroft and Stephen Cotton. He was always loyal to the ITF; he was loyal to the fight for seafarers' rights and he was loyal to the rights of his sisters and brothers at ITF House.
Steve Cotton, ITF General Secretary expressed heartfelt sympathies on behalf of the ITF: “Geoff and I were friends for more than 30 years and I feel his passing intensely, as we all do within the ITF family. Geoff embodied all that is the trade union movement and provided support to countless seafarers, advised and guided many affiliates, inspectors and staff during his time at the ITF and the loss of his experience, knowledge and humour will be very much missed by us all”
Geoff stood up for what he believed in, which wasn’t always popular. With his experience and skill, he could choose any job he wanted in the ITF, and he did. He chose to support seafarers.
At the ITF, we had a nickname for Geoff that would often make him laugh. We called him “118” because there wasn’t a question about our history or organization he couldn’t answer. We take comfort that his honest approach to life and his unwavering commitment to workers will live on with us, and will always be the answer to our most important questions.