Port state control enforcement of MLC can eradicate crew abandonment

Australia’s firm handling of cases of crew abandonment has been highlighted as a method for other states to follow to eradicate the problem.

Commenting on this site, Captain Robert Gordon, managing director and principal lecturer at Singapore-based maritime education company SeaProf, stated: “The problem of the unpaid seafarer has been resolved on board ships entering Australia by [the Australian Maritime Safety Authority].”

Port state control enforcement of the Maritime Labour Convention is the new solution for seafarers who have not been paid, the seasoned maritime expert posited.

Gordon explained crew should notify the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the ITF then notifies AMSA. AMSA then attends to conduct a full port state control (PSC) inspection including enforcement of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). The MLC provides an obligation to pay seafarer wages in full and on a monthly basis. If wages are not fully paid, then AMSA will detain the vessel. Recent vessels detained in Australia have also been slapped with bans of up to 12 months on entering Australian waters.

An AMSA spokesperson told Splash today: “Failure of shipowners or operators to pay seafarers their wages in full and on time is a clear breach of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006. It is also a detainable offence. If there is sufficient evidence of unpaid wages, AMSA will detain the ship involved and will not release it until crew have been paid the outstanding amount.”

In addition to detaining ships, AMSA has the power to ban individual ships and even entire fleets from using Australian ports if they demonstrate a repeated failure to meet the minimum applicable standards.

AMSA has banned two ships in the past six months over unpaid wages. In September, the DL Carnation was banned from Australian ports for 12 months after deliberate attempts had been made to cover up the underpayment of crew wages. In August, the MV Rena was banned for six months for a number of serious deficiencies including failure to pay more than $53,000 in outstanding crew wages.

“If other national PSC authorities did the same then the unpaid seafarer problem could be solved on a global basis and formal ship arrest and the ensuing legal costs would no longer be necessary,” SeaProf’s Gordon noted, adding: “The key must now be to quickly educate seafarers as to the potential for the ITF and PSC joint process to trigger vessel detention for MLC non-compliance if wages are not paid.”

The Canadian PSC has also been active in enforcing the MLC in order to protect seafarers. Moreover, earlier this week Ottawa introduced federal legislation aimed at outlawing the abandonment of vessels in Canadian waters. The Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act would levy fines of up to $300,000 and jail time of up to six months for individual offenders caught or proved to have ditched a ship in the nation’s waterways or harbours. Corporate violators face fines up to $6m.

“Bottom line is that PSC enforcement of the MLC produces a faster and more positive result than attempts by the crew to arrest a ship for their wages,” SeaProf’s Gordon wrote, adding: “Arrest is expensive and requires a large deposit to be made to cover service of the warrant and other court costs. These cases are also rarely be taken on by lawyers on a pro bono basis. Nor do the ITF seem inclined to put their hands in their pocket.”

Gordon’s call for greater collaboration among flag and port states to stamp out cases of crew abandonment chimes with the views held by the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In an interview with Splash last month, Kitack Lim urged port and flag states to cooperate more to help fight the scourge.

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, a link of which is provided at the bottom of Splash’s homepage.

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 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 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 has said he 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 told Splash.

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. Hi Sam, thanks for picking up my reply to an earlier article on the subject of crew abandonment and the very positive change that the MLC 2006 is already bringing to defeat this scourge to seafarers. The key is the objective and rigorous enforcement of IMO and ILO conventions by the nine regional Port State Control (PSC) organisations based all around the world. The PSC’s are there to prevent unsafe ships from entering their waters and endangering their coastlines. It is fantastic that the PSC’s have been provided with MLC authority to prevent crew abuse in port state waters as well. PSC accept no excuses from owners, flag state or class. In short, fix your ship and pay your crew or you’re detained. Samuel Plimsoll must be smiling!

  2. May be does not work well in all countries. (Transparency International CPI 2016)

Back to top button