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Prolonged downturn causes spike in abandoned crews

Charterers should “think twice” about taking ships from owners who have a history of crew neglect, a leading UK shipping charity has told Splash today.

The Mission to Seafarers is challenging charterers to avoid using companies that have mistreated crew in the past, while asking port authorities to ensure that vessels have the necessary financial securities in place before allowing them into port.

With freight rates still dire for most sectors, Splash is hearing of more and more ships being abandoned by owners and crews left to fend for themselves in often appalling conditions.

In the past 24 hours, for instance, Splash has learnt of four ships around the world where crews have been ditched by their employers.

Reverend Ken Peters from the Mission to Seafarers blasted the rise in the incidents of abandonment as “an indictment on those substandard operators who bring the rest of the shipping industry into disrepute”.

“The human tragedy caused is desperate,” Peters told Splash, adding:  “The lack of food, water and fuel makes a ‘dead ship’ a health hazard and unfit for human habitation yet seafarers are caught as the victims, often of financial mismanagement and not of their own making.”

The first of four crew abandonment tales Splash has come across in the past 24 hours concerns the reefer 38-year-old Sunny Maria reefer which arrived in Latakia in Syria seven months ago from Novorossiysk in Russia. Its owners, listed on Equasis as Libra Overseas in Belize, abandoned the crew, having also failed to pay them for many months. Half the crew remain at the anchorage in the war torn country. Vessel tracking service FleetMon speculates the ship was actually owned by the Syrian military.

Elsewhere, at Thailand’s main port of Laem Chabang 16 Filipino crew are making their protests of unfair treatment public and are urging help from the new president of the Philippines. The 20-year-old Panormitis. Av bulk carrier, owned by Greece’s Unibulk Shipping looks like it has been abandoned too, having entered Thai waters on July 21. The 16 crew are owed back wages and food has nearly run out on the ship. Images have emerged of the crew with a banner (pictured) asking the new Philippine president to help get them home. A message posted on social media by the crew also warned that some of the crew were in need of urgent medical attention.

Meanwhile, the last seven crew of the Chem Daisy, detained in the Azores in May, have finally been repatriated this week. The ship failed a PSC inspection at which point it was abandoned by its Turkish owners, Deniz Endustrisi. Crew wages amounting to tens of thousands of dollars are still owed. The six-year-old ship is now unmanned and Portuguese authorities will likely auction it next month.

Finally, in the US, the fate of the crew of the NewLead Castellano will be resolved shortly. The bulker has featured regularly on Splash this year after it was arrested in US waters this April.

Greece’s NewLead Holdings finds itself wrapped up in a number of court cases. The Castellano was nabbed over a loan default while making a sugar delivery in the US.

It emerged the ship’s crew had not been paid for a number of months. The largely Filipino crew has been forced to stay onboard since April, but creditors have ensured food and water is ferried to the ship and a priest has come to the ship three times to perform Mass. Following the ship’s auction yesterday to Singapore’s MT Maritime Management for $7.4m the crew are expected to be repatriated.

Sandra Welch, deputy chief executive UK-based charity Sailors’ Society, commented on the news, telling Splash today: “World markets always affect the economy which has a knock on affect on industry. Unfortunately, seafarers can suffer as a result of this.”

The number of crews being abandoned around the world is sadly set to increase as shipowners’ precarious balance sheets become ever more problematic, with rates for dry bulk, offshore and containers likely to remain depressed for at least the next two years.

Peters from the Mission to Seafarers warned that as well as the impact on the seafarers’ physical health and wellbeing there is the mental anguish that has to be dealt with.

“The failure to pay wages has a serious impact on families who are often evicted from their rented homes, have mortgages foreclosed, and unable to pay for education have their children send home from school,” he said, adding: “Seafarers are the easy target for reducing costs but inflicting such punitive measures on the innocent and ignoring their plight is unconscionable. Such behaviour is unacceptable and the shipping industry ought to speak out about those who, in attempts to maintain their other trades, sacrifice individual ships to uphold their business.”

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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.
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