Following the joint efforts of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) , the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, as well as lawyers, seafarers’ relatives and other parties concerned, 57 Ukrainian seafarers returned back home in June and July of 2018, after being stranded in abandoned vessels for months.
27 of the 57 seamen are the crew members of the container ship ‘Mekong Spirit’ and the bulk carrier ‘Free Neptune’, which have been widely featured in the media.
On 25 May 2017, Mekong Spirit, with a crew of 17 Ukrainians onboard, was detained off the island of Crete, Greece, over suspicion in smuggling of military goods to countries/regions under UN sanctions and escorted to the NATO base.
After the cargo inspection, it was confirmed that the cargo is legal and industrial. However, since January 2018, the seafarers were prohibited from leaving the territory of Greece, until 23 July, when a court decision allowed the 12 crew members to leave Greece, subject to compulsory monthly registration at the Consulate General of Greece in Ukraine. On 28 July, the seafarers returned home.
It was like an American action movie, when masked people climbed the ship and put us all on the deck face down,
…recalls the Mekong Spirit Oiler.
One of the loudest recent cases was repatriation of the Ukrainian seafarers of the Free Neptune, who had remained onboard the ship in the Sultanate of Oman since the summer of 2016, due to the shipowner’s bankruptcy and unpaid wages. The Greek owners Free Bulkers SA declared bankruptcy and actually abandoned the bulk carrier to the mercy of fate. At that time, there were 22 Ukrainian seafarers on board.
The wages were not paid, but they persuaded us that they were about to pay. Then they took the ship to Oman, and that’s it, we were caught in a mousetrap,
…says the 3rd Engineer.
The vessel’s supply and medical assistance was irregular. At the end of 2016, the Ukrainians even had to go on a hunger strike to draw attention to their problems. In February 2017, the seven seafarers returned home and the repatriation was organized by the Liberia Maritime Authority.
In 2018, with help from ITF, it became possible to obtain the positive court decision and the remaining crew members were authorized to legally leave the ship.