WHAT IS ABANDONMENT AT SEA?
Abandonment at sea can happen for a number of different reasons and is often a calculated economic decision by a ship owner facing bankruptcy, insolvency or the arrest of a vessel by creditors.
In many cases, vessels are abandoned after they are deemed unseaworthy and detained by port state control inspectors.
“At best, abandoned seafarers are often subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and at worst, they may find themselves in life-threatening conditions with no means of sustenance. It should be unacceptable in this modern age that crew members continue to be abandoned in foreign ports without food or water, the financial resources to get home, or their earned wages.”
Rear Admiral Charles Michel, former Chief of the US Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, and Amber Ward, Staff Attorney at the Operations Law Group of the US Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
When a crew on a merchant ship is abandoned in a foreign port, a familiar pattern of events often unfolds:
- Fuel for generators runs out
- Salaries stop being paid
- Shore leave is denied
- Food and water stops being supplied
- Services provided to the ship go unpaid
- Often the ship owner cannot be traced or remains in the background, sometimes threatening the crew and making false promises
- On board, phone cards run out of credit and seafarers are unable call home.
- Relationships suffer as boredom sets in and tempers flare
- Families of seafarers are left begging for help
In these circumstances, you should take action as soon as appropriate.
WHAT SEAFARERS CAN DO ABOUT IT
- Make sure that your employment agreement is written and signed by you and your employer and that it deals with your repatriation in the event of your abandonment.
- Be alert to the early signs of abandonment and take action as soon as appropriate.
- If you are abandoned, seek outside help. You can contact the port state control authority; the flag state of your ship; your embassy or consulate; various government departments in the port state; the ITF, your own or local trade union; various welfare organisations and/or a local lawyer.
- If you have not been paid your wages and need food, accommodation, drinking water supplies, fuel for survival on board your ship and medical care and require repatriation at no cost to yourself, you can directly access the financial security system under the MLC (for up to four months).
- If your shipowner fails to meet the costs of your repatriation under the MLC, you should approach the flag state to effect your repatriation. If it fails to do so, the country from which you are to be repatriated or the country of which you are a national may arrange for your repatriation.
- If you are abandoned, the shipowner may be committing a criminal offence. If you have not been paid your wages (for any period of time) and need repatriation, instruct a lawyer to enforce your rights under your maritime lien by arresting the ship to which the maritime lien attaches, or by arresting a sister ship in the event that the ship to which your maritime lien attaches is of insufficient value to pay for your wages and repatriation.
- If your rights to financial security under the MLC; a maritime lien; and to arrest a sister ship are to no avail and the shipowner is seeking to evade your claim, you may be able to obtain a court order compelling him not to remove his assets from the country so that if you get a judgment against him based on your employment agreement you can execute the judgment against those assets.
- You may be able to obtain assistance from the SEF, the ITF, your own or local trade unions and welfare organizations.
- If you are at risk of detention and deportation, you should instruct a lawyer to manage those risks and ensure your repatriation.
WHAT THE INDUSTRY IS DOING ABOUT IT
The lack of a framework to adequately protect abandoned seafarers has been frustrating – but positive change is happening.
Amendments to the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC,2006) specifically related to abandonment received overwhelming support from 61 ILO Member States who represent more than 80 percent of the world’s global shipping tonnage.
Corrine Vargha, Director, International Labour Standards Department, ILO says, “The MLC overlooked a number of consequences that are severely impacting seafarers that find themselves in the situation of abandonment. So this is why amendments were tabled in 2014 and adopted in order to properly and comprehensively regulate protection of seafarers against abandonment. The first component of the amendment related to a clear definition of what abandonment situations are and what situations we are regulating.
The second important element of the amendment is about the establishment of the financial security system. Seafarers who find themselves in a situation of abandonment would have direct access to a fund that would speedily pay them what the ship-owner owes them, not only in terms of the repatriation cost, but also covering a number of other related costs to abandonment, in particular wage arrears that the ship-owner might have to pay still to the seafarers, but also all the other related costs a seafarer might incur in a situation of abandonment.
The amendments related to the abandonment will come in to force in January 2017 and it will come in to force for all member states which would have not expressed formally their disagreement.
The ILO wants to achieve effective protection of every single seafarer in the world who finds himself or herself in a situation of abandonment.”
SRI will continue to provide seafarers with the guidance and information they need to navigate their way through this framework.
Under the MLC’s financial security system, you have the right to receive sufficient funds to pay for your outstanding wages and the necessary maintenance and support (including adequate food, accommodation, drinking water supplies, essential fuel for survival on board the ship and necessary medical care) up to four months.
In addition to your rights under the MLC, you have a maritime lien, which is enforced by the arrest of the ship on which you worked, which is then sold by order of court to pay your claim for wages.
If your ship has left you behind and cannot be detained to enforce your rights under the MLC or arrested to enforce your rights under your maritime lien, a sister ship may, depending on the circumstances of your case and the national law, be arrested in the place of the ship on which you worked.
If you have been abandoned and you believe the shipowner intends to evade enforcement, you may in some countries bring an urgent application before the local court to obtain an order preventing him from removing his ship, any sister ship, or any other asset from the country in which you have been abandoned.
WHERE SEAFARERS CAN GET HELP
There are several organisations you can contact for advice and support with cases of abandonment at sea:
- The ITF or your local trade union
- Your flag state
- Your port state
- The Seafarers Embassy
- Welfare organisations
- Your local community
- A lawyer
LEGAL GUIDES BY COUNTRY
You can also access Abandonment Guides by country on our Legal Database. Each Guide deals with the situation where seafarers are abandoned in a local port as well as where seafarers are abandoned on flagged vessel in a port outside of their local area.VIEW ABANDONMENT LEGAL GUIDES BY COUNTRY
ABANDONED CREWS – CURRENT LIST
The International Labour Organization (“ILO”) keeps a regularly updated database of vessels and crew who have been reported to the ILO as abandoned throughout the world. It specifically includes information on the current status of seafarers who have been abandoned. The list can be accessed at: (http://www.ilo.org/dyn/seafarers/seafarersbrowse.home).