IMO boss says shipping has a ‘human duty’ to stamp out crew abandonment

The secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has spoken of shipping’s “human duty” to ensure crew abandonment is kicked out.

In an exclusive interview with Splash as part of this site’s crew abandonment campaign, Kitack Lim, the South Korean in charge of the UN body since January last year, urged port and flag states to cooperate more to help fight the scourge.

Thousands of men and women have been left marooned in dire conditions a long way away from home by unscrupulous shipowners during the protracted downturn.

“Abandonment is a humanitarian issue that impacts heavily on seafarers, on their physical and mental health and on their loved ones, who may be left without contact for days or weeks on end. Whatever the reason for it, seafarer abandonment is a serious problem that can blight the lives of those caught up in it. We simply must tackle it,” Lim said.

The IMO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have worked together in the Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on Liability and Compensation Regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers to develop guidelines – now incorporated as amendment to the Maritime Labour convention (MLC), 2006. Moreover, a database on abandonment cases is up and running.

From January 18 this year important new rules came into force on crew abandonment.

Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) shipowners must have insurance to assist the seafarers on board vessels if they are abandoned.

All ships, to which the convention applies, whose flag states have ratified the MLC must have the insurance certificate onboard and on show in English.

The insurance will cover seafarers for up to four months outstanding wages and entitlements in line with their employment agreement or CBA.

The insurance must also cover reasonable expenses such as repatriation, food, clothing where necessary, accommodation, drinking water, essential fuel for survival onboard and any necessary medical care. It will apply from the moment of abandonment to the time of arrival back home.

Despite these changes the IMO boss wants more to be done to fight crew abandonment, with around 400 seafarers ditched by their employers in the first eight months of this year alone.

“To address this issue in the longer term we need continual cooperation, not just between IMO and the ILO, but with flag states, port states and shipowner groups too,” Lim said, stressing: “We have a human duty to protect seafarers. They are people who need special protection, given the global nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions with which they may be brought into contact.”

Splash’s crew abandonment campaign launched this week with the aim of raising awareness about the issue as well as engaging key stakeholders to take action in a bid to stamp out the practice. Yesterday the world’s top shipmanagers – who combined have more than 120,000 seafarers on their books – pledged not to do business with companies with a recent past of abandoning crew. Later this week Splash will be bringing insurers into the frame as well as gauging the views of leading shipowning bodies and shipping charities.

To access our crew abandonment archive click here while readers can click here to access the ILO/IMO database on ships that have been abandoned.


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. The problem is more systemic and as the pice says involves IMO, ILO, flag states, ship owners, unions, but these are at the global level, so assurances have to be now given at the national and ship board level. While concerned ship owners are willing to speak from the top, the system of employee relations promote silence. Sharing the work environment with seafarers’ representatives who can help monitor what goes on on board and alleviating fears of repercussions need to also be considered. Flag states are also a big part of the problem, border control officials are different from port officials. How seafarers are viewed after abandonment, how they are treated by border control persons are also important. Boosting of welfare support in ports also counts. If all round care is shown for seafarers and there is a clear message at all levels that this will not be tolerated and not just rhetoric but in action, then it will be the beginning of the end. Splash should be commended for this effort, but a stamping out of abandonment is no soon in coming.

  2. Hi Carolyn, Do you fancy expanding this – say to 500 – 600 words – listing the hurdles we face to get rid of this problem as a contribution to Splash? Thanks. Sam

  3. The IMO Secy Gen must stop pussyfooting around the problem of crew abandonment. If he knows about an initiative called the ‘Fund Convention’ for oil pollution damages, he would realise that a corpus can be raised and used for any similar cause.
    Ask all member states to shell out some contribution and start a ‘Crew Fund” to repatriate abandoned crew.

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