In a summary of the meeting of the IMO Legal Committee, 108th session (LEG 108), 26-30 July 2021, the Committee noted the alarming increase in the numbers of reports of abandoned seafarers, reported to the IMO/ILO joint database on abandonment of seafarers. (https://www.ilo.org/dyn/seafarers/seafarersbrowse.home)
From 1 January 2020 to 1 April 2021, 111 new cases had been reported, with 85 cases in 2020 and 26 cases in the first quarter of 2021. As of 26 July, of this spike of 111 new cases, only 43 have been resolved.
Around 18 cases reported since 1 January 2020 were related to consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has complicated the crew change situation of seafarers. In the three months leading up to LEG 108, a further 27 cases were reported, bringing the total number of new cases this year to 53.
Each case has impacted real people, who experience stressful, inhumane and unsafe consequences; and their families are equally affected. Such cases necessitate the substantial involvement of the IMO and ILO Secretariats, together with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and others, in order to gain resolution.
An analysis by ITF showed that in the period 1 January to 31 December 2020, ITF reported the abandonment of 851 seafarers on 53 vessels. The total 85 cases of abandonment reported in 2020 involving more than 1,300 seafarers.
Noting two specific cases, the Committee was informed that, as a result of combined efforts, the crew of the Ula, who were trapped for almost two years on board their ship under very difficult circumstances, were finally repatriated in June 2021 without their wages being paid. However, the Kuwaiti authorities had given an undertaking for their claims for outstanding wages on the ship, which was under arrest now.
The Committee was also informed that the master of the Kenan Mete had been repatriated in late June 2021 but that the outstanding wages for himself and other crew members had so far not been paid. Both these cases could be considered as being disputed.
The Committee encouraged Member States to report incidents of abandonment to the database when they occurred in their ports or on vessels flying their flag; and to further ratify and effectively implement the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006), including the 2014 amendments.
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