Seafarers' Rights International - Image © P. Terraz

Using Lawyers

For seafarers, seeking the advice of a lawyer may be one of the most stressful events of their career. Not only is the seafarer dealing with the effects of the incident but he is also pursuing a course of action which seems too often fraught with confusion, difficulties and worries about expense. If a problem cannot be resolved by another means, then finding and retaining a suitable lawyer in the appropriate country is the first step to a successful legal claim. This will often depend on the nature of the claim of the seafarer and the particular circumstances of the incident giving rise to the claim.

Read the SRI Annual Review 2012 article on Using Lawyers here


Claim against recruitment or manning agents The country where the recruitment or manning agent is situated. Maritime Lawyer
Claim for unpaid wages and other financial claims under employment agreement e.g. repatriation, abandonment, unpaid overtime, wrongful termination of employment agreement The port where the ship is located. Maritime Lawyer
Claims against employers for loss or damage to your property The port where the ship is located. Maritime Lawyer
Claim for personal injury/death whilst working The place where the injury occurred or one of the ports visited by the ship. Personal Injury Lawyer
Marine casualty or incident The first port the ship berths at after a casualty or incident. Maritime Lawyer
Criminal investigation/charges The country where the investigation/charge is made. Criminal Lawyer
Claim for salvage services The country where the ship, cargo or freight is located. Maritime Lawyer
Civil claims against seafarer by someone else The country in which the claim is being made. Lawyer experienced in Civil Law Claims


      • Find a lawyer who has subscribed to the SRI Charter of Good Practice for the Provision of Legal Services to Seafarers. Download the list of lawyers on the SRI App at (also can be saved to a mobile device to use offline)


      • Find a lawyer listed in international guides and directories where specialist lawyers are set out and rated. Examples of these websites are and (websites in English)


      • Find a lawyer listed on the membership bodies or regulatory bodies of the legal profession in specific countries. However often these websites will be in a foreign language.


      • Seek a recommendation from friends or members of the family


      • Seek a recommendation from local trade unions or welfare organisations


      • Seek a recommendation from the local consulate


      • Consider in what country you need a lawyer
      • Seek a lawyer experienced in the type of legal problem you have
      • Check if lawyer is acting for any other parties in the dispute
      • Inquire if there is any free legal advice available to you
      • Negotiate a fee arrangement that is acceptable to you
      • Remember you can always change your lawyer if you are dissatisfied with the service, or challenge the lawyer if you consider the lawyer is not providing a professional service


Lawyers are paid for their work in a variety of ways, so an individual must establish the fee and billing structure. Click on the titles below for more information.

Hourly charges:

Most lawyers charge for work on a time-spent basis, and while more experienced lawyers may have a high hourly charge-out rate, they may be able to complete the work faster than a lower rate lawyer charging less. Lawyers in large firms usually have different fee scales with senior members charging higher fees than young associates.

Contingency fee:

Commonly referred to as “no win-no fee”, the lawyer does not have to be paid unless they are able to recover some money in a settlement or by a court judgment. While the lawyer’s fees (if any) will be payable at the end of the case, their expenses may be payable as they arise.

Retainer fee:

Here the lawyer is paid a set fee, perhaps based on their hourly rate. The retainer is like an advance payment against which future costs are billed. If the fees go above the retainer amount, the client must pay that amount and additional fees beyond the retainer are often required when a matter goes to court.

Flat (or fixed total) fee:

This is generally offered if the case is relatively simple. It is important that the services and expenses covered in the flat fee are ascertained. Often the total bill is the flat fee plus costs.

Statutory fee:

A court may set and approve a fee that the client must pay. The availability of this arrangement depends on the law of a particular country.

Finding Legal Aid:

Legal aid is a system of public or private funding to enable low income earners to obtain legal services. It will not be available for every type of legal problem and is generally available to ensure equality of access and the right to legal representation.

Various types of legal aid may be available to the seafarer. It may be that an employer is prepared to fund legal fees (for example in a criminal matter) which will be paid through an insurance company.

Public defenders:

Most governments provide free legal representation to persons who have been charged with a criminal offence. Some countries provide free legal services for all criminal offences, whereas others only provide it for serious crimes such as murder.

Legal aid clinics:

In many countries, the government funds legal aid clinics but they only handle cases concerning the impoverished, and may only take certain types of cases.

Pro bono legal services:

Lawyers working in private law firms often work a portion of their time on ‘pro bono’ cases, that is, where for the public good, the lawyers provide their time free of charge where the individual cannot afford to pay for the legal services. It is always worthwhile for the seafarer to inquire if the lawyer provides pro bono legal services, and if they would be eligible.

NGOs and statutory bodies:

Certain non-government organizations (NGOs) representing groups of workers such as seafarers, or statutory bodies such as human rights authorities, often offer free legal services to individuals who have had their rights violated. This can be established at a local level.

Free online and telephone advice:

Many websites provide free legal information and advice. There are also a number of legal hotlines that seafarers can call to get legal advice. However websites and legal hotlines will only provide initial advice, and it is important that the seafarer consults a lawyer for specific advice if they have a legal problem.