Key Challenges to Paying Seafarers during Captivity

In light of increased maritime piracy attacks, especially off the Horn of Africa, which often include hijacking of seafarers, employers are facing new challenges.

Namely, employers are obliged to pay salaries to their workers while in captivity, however, an issue arises on the duration of that payment, as there have been numerous cases when seafarers were kept for several years with some never released and their fate unknown.

World Maritime News spoke to the member of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) to find out more about the approached being pursued for such cases to be resolved

According to IMCA’s members, one of the most common challenges is to determine whether the obligation to pay seafarers’ wages should cover the entire period of captivity. Given the fact that sometimes the captive seafarers may be missing for years (along with the fact that no bodies or wreckage can be found), consideration has to be given to setting a minimum period for making such payments.

There are provisions in the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), which covers minimum working and living standards for seafarers, that are directly related to the payment of wages. In particular, flag states are encouraged to make all efforts to secure payment of outstanding wages and other contractual entitlements in the event of financial default or insolvency of shipowners.

Therefore, not only employers but also the administration bear responsibility in securing that payment of wages during piracy has been fulfilled.

“Regarding a financial security system to tackle this issue, we shouldn’t penalize all shipowners for the actions of the very few who don’t comply with their payment obligations. A few who, in any event, probably sail their ships under administrations that have not ratified the MLC and do not call in ratifying ports,” IMCA’s Spokesperson said.

In order to overcome the challenge of non-payment, there are certain industry best practices documents, such as the “Good Practice Guide for Shipping Companies and Manning Agents” entitled “Humanitarian Support of Seafarers and their Families in Cases of Armed Robbery and Piracy Attacks”, which has recently been revised by the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and the social partners.

In addition, careful drafting of the Seafarers Employment Agreement to clearly define the contractual obligation of payment of wages should be a priority, IMCA noted.

In early April, a meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Working Group of the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) was held in Geneva, Switzerland, to examine issues related to the protection of seafarers’ wages when they are held captive on or off the ship as a result of piracy of armed robbery against ships.

The ILO meeting was guided by a background paper for the preparation of proposals related to the protection of seafarers’ wages in case of hijacking.

IMCA participated in the meeting on behalf of the Maritime Employers’ Group. In preparing for this meeting, the Maritime Employers’ Group has undertaken research into the number of cases of non-payment of wages, as presented by ILO’s background paper.

119 cases of non-payment during piracy or armed robbery have been cited in the paper. The group identified 67 cases as the ones where full payment and compensation has been made.

The group identified only ten cases out of 119 that were given to the International Labour Office that might have resulted in the non-payment of wages. All of the ten cases occurred before the entry into force of the MLC.

“Given that the cases on the list cover a 10-year period, this would suggest an average of only one vessel per year and given that there are potentially 64,000 vessels per annum, IMCA niche membership is considered to continue paying wages to seafarers during piracy and/or armed robbery,” IMCA members concluded.

Under the terms of the Maritime Labor Convention, seafarers are entitled to wages during piracy incidents. Shipowners’ obligations toward seafarers should continue until they are released or until the date of death if they die while in captivity. Shipowners should continue to remit allotments to persons nominated by the seafarer. In addition, seafarers cannot be fired while held captive.