Rising seafarer abandonment cases prompt talks on emergency fund

Three of the world’s largest seafaring nations are proposing the establishment of a seafarers’ mutual emergency fund to support abandoned crew.

China, Indonesia, and the Philippines have introduced the idea of a mutual emergency fund at the recently held International Maritime Organization (IMO) legal committee as abandonment cases are heading for another record.

The IMO’s legal committee has reported a rise in the number of seafarer abandonment cases since the start of the pandemic last year. Between January 2020 and April this year, the ILO/IMO joint database on abandonment recorded 111 new cases. 85 of these cases occurred last year and the balance of 26 cases occurred in Q1 of 2021. According to the IMO, just 46 have been resolved since, and 27 more have been reported since April. More than 1,300 seafarers were affected.

Abandonment takes place when owners stop paying wages for at least two months, don’t cover the cost of repatriation, or when they leave the seafarer without maintenance and support.

The IMO is looking to establish practical guidelines for flag and port states on how to deal with abandonments in order to quickly resolve such cases.

The details of how the emergency fund would work should be clear for consideration at the next legal meeting in March 2022. It was said that the fund should only cover repatriation and not outstanding wages and that it should also not present unfair advantages for those flag states not fulfilling their obligations.

Adis Ajdin

Adis is an experienced news reporter with a background in finance, media and education. He has written across the spectrum of offshore energy and ocean industries for many years and is a member of International Federation of Journalists. Previously he had written for Navingo media group titles including Offshore Energy, Subsea World News and Marine Energy.


  1. What is the point of an emergency fund that only covers repatriation, when repatriation costs are already dealt with under the MLC and are the responsibility of the P&I Clubs? Is this emergency fund therefore a bureaucratic way of solving the issue of repatriation of crew on board vessels without proper P&I cover?

    Seems to me to be a lot of broohaha over tackling an issue that is the tip of the iceberg and not much more.

    How about replacing that crew on the abandoned vessel? Who is going to handle and pay for that when the Port authorities won’t allow the Vessel to go unmanned?

  2. Ref “Rising seafarer abandonment cases prompt talks on emergency fund” report, are there previous report discussing the MLC requirements on repatriation and wages.

    Have not been following the previous articles if any. Thanks

  3. While I welcome discussion on the topic of abandonment and urge governments to look at the issue in greater detail, I believe that there are already sufficient safeguards in the MLC to protect seafarers from abandonment. This is because the MLC already provides for the costs to sustain abandoned seafarers, repatriate them and pay up to 4 months wages. It also obliges port states to facilitate the repatriation of abandoned seafarers. Where the system fails is the failure of flag, port and labor providing states to properly implement and adhere to the obligations of the MLC. In addition, they frequently respond too slowly to reported abandonments and are too willing to compromise the safety and health of abandoned seafarers in favour of other safety concerns such as port safety and environment. While those are valid and important concerns, there is no need to fail abandoned crew to ensure that port and environmental concerns are addressed.

    What MLC does not explicitly provide for is who will pay the incoming or relieving crew. Given the port state’s obligation to allow crew to return home regardless of their employers failure or refusal to do so, it should be implied that the port state should provide for replacement crew. How they seek to recover the costs of that is up to them, but given the abandoning owners asset, the vessel, is in their waters, there would seem to be a relatively obvious solution. While there may be some costs, surely this can be considered part of being a responsible participant in international trade.

    In general, these matters remain to be seen largely as issues of private law between shipowners, the crew and the vessels insurers. This needs to end, especially in cases where there is no financial security. Authorities need to step into abandonment situations and manage the resolution more proactively with appropriate sanctions against shipowners (companies and individuals) who fail to care for their crew or place them in forced labour situations.

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