The IMO’s Legal Committee reported an alarming rise in the number of seafarer abandonment cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
85 of these cases took place in 2020, while another 26 cases occurred in the first quarter of 2021. However, only 46 of these cases have been resolved, with 27 more being reported since April.
Moreover, ITF has reported a slightly lower number, with 53 vessels and about 850 seafarers affected in 2020. Nevertheless, taking into consideration IMO’s count for the year, over 1,300 seafarers were affected.
On the other hand, the committee highlighted two positive outcomes in high-profile cases. The crew of the bulker Ula, who carried out a hunger strike in February to protest their continued captivity in the harbor at Shuaiba, Kuwait, who have now been repatriated. In that case, one seafarer had been on board for more than two years. The wages of the crew have not been paid.
In another case, advocates have freed the master of the Kenan Mete, who was in a hotel in Egypt after a court declared him the “judicial guard” of the vessel. The owner had abandoned the ship along with its crew, and the captain was the last person left. After intervention by the ITF, Egyptian officials allowed him to be repatriated.
In order to tackle the ongoing crew change crisis, the Legal Committee launched a working group to create practical guidelines to cover the legal framework, responsibilities and procedures for port and flag state authorities.
Finally, the committee also discussed a proposal to establish a Seafarers Emergency Mutual Fund to help crewmembers affected by abandonment.