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For Those in Peril …

March 5, 2019

by Jim Rhodes

Take a look at this photo, which was taken last year. It shows 10 seafarers who were trapped on a ship that had been abandoned by its owner. They had not been paid for over two years and were virtually imprisoned on the ship, riding at anchor in UAE waters. The ship’s owner was reported to be Alco Shipping Company. Gulf News reported that the same company had stranded seafarers on three other ships under similar conditions. On one of the ships a crewmember described their plight: “We sleep on deck and did not take a shower for 10-15 days. We turn on the generator only for using the hotplate for cooking for one hour. We ran out of the wooden planks we used for cooking while at anchorage.”

Seafarers are accustomed to a harsh life. They spend months at sea under constant dangers from fire, groundings, collisions, accidents, piracy attacks and severe weather damage. They endure long working days and nights and often suffer from extreme loneliness. If that’s not enough, we are seeing increasing reports like the one above of unpaid crewmembers being stranded in foreign ports aboard ships without money, food or supplies when the owners default or declare bankruptcy.

Last month, for instance, World Maritime News reported on 40 seafarers who have been stranded on three ships anchored in the Port of Sharjah for more than two years without pay. The crew members are from India, Tanzania, Eritrea, Philippines, Sudan and Ethiopia. Their passports were confiscated by the owner, and they are unable to leave the ships. They are dependent on charities for food, water and emergency medical supplies. The owners and managers are reported to be trying to sell the ships to raise money to pay the trapped seafarers, but no immediate relief is in sight.

These stories are not unusual and are becoming increasingly commonplace. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has added 11 new cases of crew abandonment to its list in the last six months. For example:

February 2019 – The crew of two abandoned Venezuelan oil tankers are finally going home after nearly two years at anchor in Lisbon with no pay. The ships had been arrested by creditors.

January 2019 – Eight Indian seafarers have been trapped without pay in Walvis Bay on Halani 1, a ship flagged in St. Vincent and Grenadines.  They are reported to be experiencing mental illness issues with two alleged suicide attempts.

October 2018 – 21 Filipino crew members of MV Evangelia M, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, are reportedly stranded in Kakinada Port in India. The ship is said to have been abandoned by its Greek owner.

May 2018 – 17 seafarers were sent home after two years trapped on Kish Island, Iran. They included 12 Indians, three Ethiopians and two Filipinos. They had been left stranded when their contracts expired, waiting for salaries to be paid so they could return home. Their Identity documents had been confiscated by their employers.

April 2018 – 16 crew members on the Bahrain-flagged containership Avonmoor were finally paid their back wages and returned home to Ukraine after being trapped on board the ship four months in Morocco.

Ship ownership has always been a murky business, and it’s not always easy to identify and prosecute the culprits. Ship insurance can be even murkier.

There have been countless efforts on the part of organizations such as the International Transport Workers Federation and maritime charitable bodies to bring the plight of these unfortunate souls to the world’s attention. The ILO Legal Committee just held a round of hearings. But action is sadly lacking. The horror stories continue to appear with discouraging regularity in the trade press, but alas go mostly unreported in the broader news media.