Alarm raised at the vast amount of money owed in backpay to the world’s seafarers

The amount of back pay owed to crew remains alarmingly high despite greater scrutiny from mainstream press and the general public. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) told Splash today the only remedy for the scourge is for ITF – or a similar body – to have the powers to stop any ship where wages were owed.

The ITF Inspectorate has just released its figures for last year, which shows the union managed to claw back a staggering $37.8m in owed wages, a figure that ITF officials say is likely to be repeated this year.

“The $37.8m of owed wages that the ITF Inspectorate recovered in 2018 is by no means unusual, as we have consistently seen figures like this for the past 10 years or more,” Steve Trowsdale, ITF Inspectorate coordinator told Splash.

For the first five months of 2019 the ITF  has recovered more than $15.5m, which Trowsdale said shows that once again “unscrupulous shipowners are targeting the wages of innocent seafarers”.

“It is generally agreed that stopping the practice of withholding wages is difficult to eradicate unless Port State Control take a greater lead on stopping ships when they see it, or the unions get greater powers to stop ships. If we had the power to stop every ship that had owed wages, shipowners would soon stop,” Trowsdale said.

Commenting via Twitter on the $37.8m figure from last year, an outraged James Wilkes, managing director of UK consultants Gray Page, commented: “Ship owners / managers who are wilfully not paying the wages of their crews should be drummed out of the industry. It’s exploitation of the worst kind and if we are not outraged by it we fucking well should be.”

David Hammond, founder of the NGO Human Rights at Sea, said today the ITF figures were a “damning indictment” of shipping’s failure to look after their own staff.

“Shipping is a multi-billion dollar industry which has strong regulation and is responsible for delivering much of the $16trn worth of world goods annually produced via its extensive supply chain. If the ITF figures are correct, it is another damming indictment of the continuing failure to look after the very seafarers at the front line who ensure global trade routes work day-on-day,” Hammond told Splash.

Non-payment of wages was one of the key problems facing seafarers that was detailed in the 2018 Life at Sea report from UK charity Apostleship of the Sea, which noted that seafarers rarely complain about unpaid wages until the situation is acute.

“Whilst attempts are made to secure the backpay, this severe stress can lead to depression, ill health and a dissatisfaction with life at sea. Steps need to be taken against companies that repeatedly withhold wages especially when one also considers the impact on seafarers families,” the report from last year noted.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. While London continue to see more shipping awards handed out with gratuitous self-pattings for jobs well done and for some who have never gone to sea (mind you I have not gone myself). Just saying priorities continue to be skewed.

  2. Lets start having an annual award event for the “Shipowner Who Owes the Most Money to his Crew”

    Lets see, … would the event best be held in Greece? China? India? We don’t want the owners to have to travel too far, eh? Cuz it’s ‘costly’ you know.

    1. They would not mind. The crew would finance it. It would be first class travel and the best hotels in London.

  3. This is outrageous, these guys, working in all kinds of weather and wave conditions at sea, while the fatass executives live in luxury in plush offices, and then NOT getting paid! Good grief these owners should be jailed. I am so upset by this injustice! CK

Back to top button