The right to invoke the MLC’s Financial System
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.
The right to a Maritime Lien and Arrest the Ship on which you worked
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.
The right to arrest a sister ship on which you did not work
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.
The right to a court order preventing the shipowner from evading your claim
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.
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 you can do
- 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.
Where to 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