Lloyds List, 15 August 2013: Interview with Revd Ken Peters, the Mission to Seafarers’ director of justice and welfare.
“From August 20 onwards, if all else fails, the flag state will have the responsibility of repatriation of the crew in vessel abandonment. I have described the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 as a paradigm shift in the care of seafarers because, with its entry into force, seafarers have a degree of protection from the worst exploitation.
As an example of how this may work in practice, I will take abandonment of a vessel to illustrate my point.
From August 20 onwards, if all else fails, the flag state will have the responsibility of repatriation.
Of course, the practicalities will no doubt still be undertaken by port chaplains and welfare teams, the delivery of supplies, transportation to the medical facility and eventually the airport, but at least there will be a system in place and responsibilities clearly defined.
There is a risk that for some owners, the last barrier to abandonment will be removed. If there is a qualm about leaving seafarers in such appalling conditions, there will be no need to worry because thanks to MLC, seafarers will be repatriated in future.
It will be easier for the minority of rogue shipowners to abrogate their responsibilities and pursue financial advantage, regardless of the human suffering they cause.
A lack of food, water and generator fuel for lighting, heating or air conditioning; denial of medical care; restricted or no access to shore are the features of an abandoned ship.
A “dead” ship is an inhuman place, with insect and possibly rodent infestation — this is the reality of abandonment with no hope of repatriation and home is a distant, unreachable dream.
Seafarers suffer and are vulnerable to the mistreatment that is so often out of sight, with vessels often at anchor or in a remote part of the port.
To all authorities, the presence of an abandoned ship is an unwelcome interference to the smooth operation of port business.
An abandoned ship takes up an otherwise revenue-earning berth; it presents a bureaucratic nightmare, with the potential for embarrassing media attention.
The distressed seafarers are often regarded as illegal immigrants and embassy officials complain about their nationals being subjected to inhuman and degrading conditions.
Agents sometimes help — mindful, of course, that they will not get paid for their trouble. Yet again the abandoned crew rely on the charity of the port chaplains, welfare teams and organisations such as The Mission to Seafarers.
Today I am dealing with seafarers who are trying to survive in exactly such desperate conditions. Their vessel is at anchor and the crew are unable to obtain shore access.
They have only 15 litres of water between six of them, which must last for three days until officials may allow access to the ship. There is no food on board.
That such a situation can arise is an indictment on the shipping industry. Not having been paid their wages for four months, they are entirely dependent on charity and unable to return home at their own cost.
The MLC will fix this. It will not put an end to abandonments, but it will help remove seafarers from the worst abuses.
Responsible shipowners need to be congratulated for the way in which they pressed for the introduction of the MLC 2006.
Seafarers will not be charged for their repatriation and flag states must acknowledge their responsibility.
Perhaps registers may be a little more discerning about which owners are accepted and port authorities take note of what flag the vessel flies, indicating what provisions are in place pursuant to the Standard A2.5 of the MLC code.”