The number of crew abandonment cases continues to rise, possibly due to pressures on the industry during the pandemic. While port states such as Australia have been aggressive when the cases have been brought to their attention, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and charity Stella Maris also report that with increased support from organizations and government, they making progress in obtaining compensation for crew members around the world. .
The ITF reported 85 cases of abandonment to the International Labor Organization (ILO) last year, a historic record according to the union. In many of these cases, they report that the abandoned crew had already been waiting weeks or months for unpaid wages.
“It is not uncommon for a crew to be paid the wrong rate by a shipowner, or less than the rate set out in the employment contract covering the vessel,” said Steve Trowsdale, ITF Inspection Coordinator . “Seafarers may think it is normal not to be paid for a few months while they wait for a shipowner to settle the financing, but they should be aware that non-payment can also be a sign that a shipowner is about to release them and leave abandoned them.
Often, cases end when port states and governments step in to remove their citizens after being abandoned around the world. Stella Maris, the world’s largest ship tours network, and the official maritime charity of the Catholic Church, also reports a case where it was able to build trust with the crew and help them obtain compensation. further in court. .
A group of 32 Thai crew members working on a fishing vessel took to social media in June 2019 after they were abandoned by the commercial vessel Wadani 1 without their salary in Somalia. Some crew members had been on board for a year, working first off Iran and then Somalia without being properly paid. Stuck in Somalia, their food supplies were running dangerously low.
Apinya Tajit, director of the Stella Maris Thailand Seafarers Center and port chaplain, has worked with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Thai Embassy which deals with Somalia. The embassy negotiated with Somali authorities and the ship’s owners to send the men home. They were sent back to Thailand at the end of August 2019, where normally these stories end.
Instead, by working with local lawyers, Stella Maris was able to build trust with the crew and helped the men pursue human trafficking lawsuits and recover unpaid crew wages. . Last month, Thailand’s central labor court ruled in favor of the 32 crew members, awarding them approximately $255,000 in compensation to cover unpaid wages and vacation pay.
The ITF reports that its 125 inspectors and coordinators carried out 7,265 inspections in 2021 to support thousands of seafarers with wage claims and repatriation cases. They are trained to look for exploitation, overwork and signs of forced labor. On many ships, inspectors have the right to examine wage accounts and employment contracts, and to examine recorded hours of work and rest.
“Worryingly, we are seeing an increase in the number of seafarers reporting non-payment of wages for periods of two months or more, which meets the ILO definition of abandonment,” reports Trowsdale. He said the ITF was, however, able to recover nearly $37.6 million in unpaid wages and dues from shipowners in 2021.
As an example of their work, the union pointed out that its Hong Kong-based inspector, Jason Lam, had assisted eight Burmese sailors who crewed the MV lydia recover nearly $30,000 in unpaid wages after they ran aground in October 2021. They were nearly wrecked after a typhoon, according to the ITF, with the shipowner refusing to pay the two months wages owed to the crew and without help for go back home.
“I am extremely proud of the work our inspectors have done to support seafarers over the past year, often working in incredibly difficult circumstances,” said Trowsdale. “As the crew change crisis deepened in early 2021, a flood of requests filled ITF inboxes with crews desperate to sign on and go home.”
The ITF reports that breach of contract was the first failure of shipowners identified by its inspectors in 2021. Of the 7,265 inspections carried out, a quarter resulted from requests from crews or individual sailors and 1,795 cases were classified as breach of contract. Contract. The ITF uses this term to include unlawful extensions of work periods, unacceptable or unsafe working conditions and failure to meet agreed rates of pay.