Over the last five years, 12 to 19 crew abandonment incidents were reported annually and 1,013 seafarers were involved in total, the International Labour Organization (ILO) told World Maritime News.
Furthermore, figures from this year, as of July 31, show that 28 abandonment cases were reported, involving 339 seafarers. Of those 1,352 seafarers, 254 seafarers were from Ukraine, followed by India with 203 and the Philippines with 105 seafarers, rendering these nationalities among the most vulnerable categories of sailors when it comes to crew abandonment.
In an interview with WMN, Jinhak Noh from ILO’s Maritime and Transport Unit, Sectoral Policies Department, who is at the same time in charge of the database on the abandonment of seafarers, spoke about the latest abandonment figures along with ILO’s role in the process and the way forward.
WMN: What can be concluded from these figures moving ahead, is there a growing trend of crews being abandoned?
Noh: “As of July 31, 2017, there have been 287 incidents since January 1, 2004. Of those incidents, 144 cases are resolved and 57 cases are partially resolved (disputed cases). The resolved cases remain in the database for statistical reasons only. There are also 50 inactive cases which means that no further update of information will be expected for them in the future. As a result, there are still 36 unresolved cases in the database.
“In 2017, 28 cases were reported by July 31 and out of that number, 7 cases were completely resolved and 2 were partially resolved. The number of cases reported increased drastically compared to the recent five-year period (12 to 19 cases). This may be due to more cases or due to greater awareness of the database or perhaps due to the publicity that has been given to the database at IMO meetings and events. It seems that the increasing interest in abandonment cases by the related stakeholders as well as by seafarers themselves resulted in the higher number of cases being reported.”
As indicated, if a shipowner fails to make arrangements for or to meet the cost of seafarers’ repatriation, the competent authority of the member whose flag the ship flies is in charge of arranging for repatriation.
Should a country fail to do so, the state from which the seafarers are to be repatriated or the state of which they are a national may arrange for their repatriation and recover the costs from the member whose flag the ship flies.
Costs incurred from the process are recoverable from the shipowner by the member whose flag the ship flies.
“Many cases have not been resolved for months and even years. Until each case is resolved, seafarers need due assistance to maintain their lives on board the ship. When they are not able to get very basic provisions such as fresh water, food, medical care and fuel, every case can become the worst case,” Noh pointed out.
Responding to the ever-growing problem of owners abandoning their crews on ships without pay, in January this year, the 2014 amendments to the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), 2006 entered into force, requiring that a financial security system be put in place in order to ensure that ship owners provide compensation to seafarers and their families in the event of abandonment.
As explained by ILO, abandoned seafarers would often be reluctant to leave their ship until it was sold in a judicial sale to pay outstanding claims, including claims for unpaid wages.
“Now, the payment of such claims will be expedited by the financial security system. Over time, this may reduce the number of prolonged abandonment cases,” Noh noted.
Furthermore, states for which the MLC, 2006, as amended, is in force can enforce compliance with its requirements on foreign vessels visiting their ports.
However, if a vessel is flying the flag of a state for which the amendments are not in force, and it that vessel operated between port states for which the amendments are not in force either, this would undermine protection, as explained by Noh.
“It is therefore important that all flag and port states ratify the MLC, 2006 and accept the amendments,” he added.
Speaking on the ILO’s role in this process, Noh said that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its inspectors play the main role in discovering and reporting abandonment cases.
“As each case is reported, we, including ITF, ICS, and IMO, urge an owner and flag state to resolve the case. In practice, IMO has usually made the first contact with the flag state and/or port state concerned. The ILO may, if necessary, also send official letters to flag and/or port state in order to remind their obligations under the MLC, 2006 and its amendments.
“The ILO has been urging more member states to ratify the MLC, 2006 and accept its amendments, as this will help in addressing, and even avoiding, such cases. The flag state plays a key role in resolving each abandonment case, and timely and effective response by the flag state is therefore usually very important.”
WMN: Are there any estimates on how many cases are unreported?
Noh: “ILO does not have any estimates on how many cases are unreported. Most of the notifications on the abandonment case come from ITF. ILO/IMO mostly depend on those who submit reports, including ITF, port and flag states, and seafarers.”