David Hammond, Human Rights at Sea, CEO, and Professor Steven Haines, University of Greenwich and Honorary Trustee, recently joined the Operational Maritime Law podcast to discuss the protection of human rights at sea, focusing on what can be done about the plight of abandoned seafarers.
Beginning the podcast, Lt. James Cook, USN, Legal Advisor with COE CSW, asks Mr. Hammond and Mr. Haines to give a quick overview of what this problem is, and how it can affect seafarers.
According to Mr. Hammond “abandonment of seafarers is a deliberate decision taken by the owner or through the management company to no longer support logistically, or through pay the seafarers who are moving the goods from Port A to port B to port C on a transit.”
It is usually triggered by the owner having limited financial capabilities. Banks calling in loans, unable to pay those money, and therefore they effectively ditch their assets. And those assets are the vessels and the crew on board
Those vessels invariably go alongside either in a port or in an inner or outer anchorage at anchor, “and they’re just left.” They don’t have bunkers, fuel oil, no fresh water, and in some cases there are limited food supplies.
The seafarers could leave the vessel, but if they do leave the vessel, they then lose their claim and their entitlement once that vessel is sold
As a matter of fact, during 2021, union ship inspectors recovered more than USD $37 million in unpaid wages owed to seafarers, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has revealed. Specifically, the ITF reported 85 cases of abandonment to the International Labour Organization (ILO) last year, a historic high. In many of those cases, abandoned crew had already been waiting on several weeks’ or months’ of unpaid wages.
Altogether, the ITF clawed back USD $37,591,331 in unpaid wages and entitlements from shipowners in 2021. Steve Trowsdale, the ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator.added the makeup of seafarers’ wage claims was changing:
Concerningly, we’re seeing a rise in the number of seafarers reporting non-payment of wages for periods of two months or longer, which actually meets the ILO’s definition of abandonment
Another issue that Mr. Hammond pinpointed is the fact that the Maritime Labor Convention covers up to three months of unpaid wages, as does the insurers. However, there have been cases involving up to four to five years of individuals abandoned.
Recently, a joint ILO/IMO meeting that took place in December and discussed the issue of seafarers’ abandonment, adopted guidelines to address the significant rise in such cases, referring to the general procedure and key steps for all parties concerned.
According to the guidelines, upon discovery of a case of abandonment of seafarers, the port State control or other parties should immediately report the case to the port State authority where the abandonment incident occurred and to the ILO for inclusion in the ILO/IMO Database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers.
The port State should then carry out investigation and necessary coordination work with relevant agencies within the port State. The port State authority should also notify the parties involved, such as the shipowner, flag State, States of which the seafarers are nationals, and any relevant seafarers’ representatives and/or organizations about the case of abandonment of seafarers through any appropriate channel.
Upon receiving notification of a case of abandonment of seafarers, the flag State authority should urge the shipowner or financial security providers to fulfil their responsibilities, in accordance with the MLC, 2006, as soon as practicable by setting a reasonable time frame taking into account the well-being of the seafarers.
Nevertheless, Mr. Cook stressed that as far as crew abandonment is concerned, much of this comes down to national regulations pertaining to either the vessel itself or to the coastal waters of that coastal state. Having that in mind, he asked the two guests, if any state has protected their seafarers effectively from abandonment.
As Mr. Hammond notes, HRAS has been collaborating with New Zealand, Australia lately, aiming to secure seafarers, onshore welfare facilities and the sustainable funding through a maritime levy.
Every time a vessel goes into a port, they pay a levy to the government. Inn New Zealand it’s between two and three thousand US dollars per vessel. And of that, some money goes as a portion to see fare welfare
More specifically, during 2022, HRAS along with the New Zealand Seafarer Welfare Board managed to achieve a precedent by changing a primary legislation. This means that there is a positive requirement in New Zealand primary legislation law of their Maritime Transport Act to allocate some of the funds of the maritime levy to seafarers’ welfare.
New Zealand and Australia seem to be taking a real focus in the welfare of commercial seafarers and indeed fishers within their ports and under their port welfare committees
Mr. Hammond noted.
The reality is however, that the world is currently experiencing a really difficult time as far economy is concerned. For this reason, Mr. Cook asked whether this challenging situation has made it more difficult for countries to pass laws that protect seafarers from abandonment.
Responding, Mr. Hammond stated:
Actually no, quite the opposite. One of the positives following the Covid pandemic has been the shipping rates going through the roof. The carriers are making enormous amounts of money. Two to 3 thousand US dollars is not a lot of money in a boxship that might have 20,000 containers on it. So, the issue is that there should be sustainable funding for all seafarers, globally and fishers in terms of welfare
Mr. Cook also emphasized a bit more on the work HRAS has done throughout the years, and specifically lately with the war in Ukraine. As Mr. Hammond explained, recently a HRAS team went on the ground with a field mission, into Western Ukraine, in order to link up with ship ownership managers, and various welfare organizations.
We were there to take an initial assessment of what was happening within the Odessa region for seafarers
Concluding the podcast, Mr. Hammond and Mr. Haines took a look back at their careers, in order to provide the younger generations with some insightful advice. According to Mr. Haines, young officers should “Consider the law and the politics of it all. Don’t just look at the sheer demanding challenges of operating as a tactical officer at that sort of seagoing. Try and glean as much as you can about how complex some of these issues are in terms of the tactical situation at sea and the policy implications and the longer term legal implications.”
The only easy day was yesterday
stated for his part Mr. Hammond, who further stated that young people wanting to enter the maritime must have “a huge amount of humility and avoid any arrogance” of what they have done previously. According to Mr. Hammond “going into the real world” the first question people get asked is how much money they make last.
That can be quite disillusioning. You need to really surround yourself by people who’ve already gone through the process themselves and transitioned and take their advice
What to do?
Every shipping company should leave a deposit to ITF based on the number of seafarer employed or the number of ships to cover such potential mispayments.
Without it, no ITF/IBF green or blue card