IMO vows to crackdown on seafarer abandonment

The secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Kitack Lam has vowed to crack down on owners who abandon crews. At a seminar held at the IMO’s headquarters in London last week, Lim emphasised that continued cooperation between IMO, organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), flag states, port states and shipowner groups was essential. “We have a human duty to protect seafarers, and we must not hide from it,” Lim said.

Attendees of the seminar were shown how a joint IMO-ILO database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers has named and shamed many shipping lines in recent years. Splash readers can access the database by clicking here.

The vexing issue of crew abandonment, cases of which have soared as the downturn has lengthened, has seen a number of charities call for more punitive measures.

The Apostleship of the Sea for instance has said that owners who deliberately abandon their ships and the crew onboard should not be able to act with impunity. Port state control, along with other stakeholders, should ensure that any other ships in a fleet where one or more has been deliberately abandoned are tracked and the needs of seafarers onboard those ships given particular attention when in port, the charity has suggested.

Meanwhile, the Mission to Seafarers has called for all owners who abandon ships to be barred from shipowning.

In January 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 onboard 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 on board and any necessary medical care. It will apply from the moment of abandonment to the time of arrival back home.

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. Excuse me, Mr. Kitack Lam, but crew abandonment is in the purview of the International Labour Organization. Same with other matters related to mariners’ rights and welfare. Have you forgotten that Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, is not an IMO but an ILO treaty?

    1. It is also useful to have the IMO’s voice on this one. Unfortunately the ILO has less clout and less respect in the global governance regime. The IMO has a right to speak to these issues and to work cooperatively with other organizations. Actually, the governments in the IMO are the ones with the real say, but will they exercise the political will that this needs, or will they also put economics above seafarers’ lives. Abandonment is not new!

  2. How do we communicate with Kitlack Lam’s pals at IMO? Preferably in a public forum? They have may rules which are physically harming seafarers. The fat cat ship owners, who meekly accept IMO’s deadly rules, are too weak willed to complain.

    1. An individual cannot talk with IMO. IMO communicates only with member states. You have to approach your maritime administration with your complaints/suggestions. And good luck with that endeavour.

  3. This all sounds good in the office but where is the backing and support. My son was paid off a Maltese registered yacht (under MLC) last year but the owners refused to pay repatriation. Transport Malta was contacted but simply advised to contact a Lawyer. Various other organisations were contacted without any success.

  4. According to the ITF, with effect from 18 January 2017 the MLC has required owners to arrange insurance to cover costs relating to abandonment. An insurance certificate, in English, must be kept on board to demonstrate compliance.
    In addition, all P&I Clubs belonging to the International Group have set up helplines to handle questions about the coverage and validity of the certificates.
    There’s also been talk regarding the establishment of a fund to cover both unpaid wages and repatriation costs, although I have not seen any indications regarding how far that has progressed.

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