Maritime courts must put crew welfare first in abandonment cases

Crews of abandoned ships should not have to beg to be allowed home. It is a basic human right. The crew of MV Angelic Power have now been repatriated, after up to 17 months on the ship.

Seafarers trapped on the MV Angelic Power (IMO 9250189) since July last year have now been repatriated, following a lengthy battle in the Chinese courts. ITF demands swifter action from these and similar authorities who leave seafarers to fester while they concentrate on financial matters.

The bulk carrier with nine Greek and 13 Filipino crew onboard discharged its cargo at  Guangzhou near Hong Kong, China in July 2020. In December, the ship was still there and was arrested by a court over a financial dispute between the cargo receiver and the ship’s owner. Seven of the Greek crew were repatriated in April but the remaining 15 seafarers were obliged to remain on board until 21 July 2021.

“Some of these people were on this ship for 17 months,” said Steve Trowsdale ITF’s inspectorate coordinator. “That has a terrible psychological effect. Now, they have finally been able to successfully disembark the ship and are able to return home to their families. Maritime courts need to do better for the crew on abandoned ships all round the world.”

Going home . . . eventually

Only recently have the Chinese authorities started to address the crew’s repatriation. Five Chinese relievers have gone on board to learn the ship’s operations. The existing crew has now been allowed to leave the ship.

ITF’s inspector Jason Lam (MNOG-HK) has been checking in with the crew of the Angelic Power.

“Their physical and mental wellbeing has got noticeably worse as the months go on,” he said. “The court appointed a local agent and funded the supply of provisions, water and other necessities. This is great, but still, the court effectively imprisoned 15 entirely innocent people.”

The Greek owners, Angeliki Dynamis Investment, and operators, Panthalassa Maritime Corp, abandoned the vessel in February and stopped paying the crew. The insurance has expired: often insurers will pay for crew repatriation.

The Filipino seafarers appointed their own lawyers who have been fighting for their repatriation in the courts. Lam intervened to persuade the lawyers to also take on the case for the two Greek crew members.

None of them has been paid since the operators abandoned the ship in February. The total pay owed is US$ 221,000. It is hoped that some of that can be recovered when the Chinese court gets around to selling the ship. In the meantime, getting home is the seafarers’ main concern.

“The court should have immediately looked at the welfare of the crew and arranged for their repatriation back in December when the case first came up,” said Trowsdale. “They’re caught in the middle of this dispute and rely on the authorities to help them. They could have been home months ago.”

“I am happy and relieved to see genuine smiles back on the seafarers’ exhausted faces knowing that they will all be home soon with their families and get their well-deserved rest after 17 months on the ship,” said ITF’s inspector Arvin Peralta (AMOSUP).

The crew at the airport on the way home to be reunited with their families. | (Credit: ITF)

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