Salvation for stranded seafarers

No one is more exposed to the daily hardships and horrors of abandoned crews than the world’s leading shipping charities and the hard working people at trade unions such as the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

A glance at the database of abandoned ships created by the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization shows charity and union staff have their work cut out keeping in touch and aiding the hundreds of stranded seafarers around the world who are more often than not left to fend for themselves in dire conditions.

Unsurprisingly these men and women at the sharp end of this crisis have strong opinions on the issue and also solutions that are worth airing.

“In 2017 seafarers should not be abandoned without pay,” Roger Harris, executive director of International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), told Splash. “Not only does it cause them financial hardship but it also has a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing. Flag and port states need to act more quickly to ensure that seafarers don’t languish aboard vessels for months and even years waiting for pay that is rightfully theirs in the first place.”

A recent global survey carried by Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) and presented at their World Congress in Kaohsiung last week showed that 30% of AoS port chaplains have supported crew on an arrested ship in the last year. Ship arrests are often the precursor to abandonment.

“In our experience abandoned crew will have both immediate practical needs; need for local information, clothing, help to communicate with family as well as longer term needs while the case is being resolved; access to union and legal help, emotional and spiritual support,” Martin Foley, AoS’s UK national director, told Splash. “Some in the industry are blind to the extent of this problem and the extreme emotional and psychological effect it has on abandoned crew and their families. AoS would welcome sincere efforts across the industry to better map the problem and take preventative measures so that fewer seafarers are affected.”

Interviewed for Splash, the Reverend Canon Andrew Wright, secretary general of the Mission to Seafarers, spoke of how he and his team had repeatedly seen the damage caused by what he described as “this immoral practice”.

“Shipowners and managers have a duty of care to their crews and the maritime industry must be united in condemning those owners who avoid their legal responsibilities for seafarer welfare,” Wright stressed.

Stuart Rivers, CEO of Sailors’ Society, agreed with Wright’s sentiment, while also making suggestions as to how to stamp out the problem.

“We condemn abandonment and the unscrupulous practices that lead to it because charities like us have to pick up the pieces and see first hand the hardship and anguish caused,” Rivers said. He called for greater dialogue with shipowners to sound out ways to solve the scourge. Part of the solution would be for more countries to ratify the MLC 2006, Rivers asserted.

Meanwhile, David Heindel, chair of the ITF’s seafarers’ section, stressed that crew abandonment was something that involved a tiny minority of shipping, and it can be kicked out.

“Every decent, responsible person in shipping wants to see the end of crew abandonment. It’s a canker on the face of the industry that the vast majority want to see eradicated,” Heindel said, adding: “We would like to applaud the work of Splash in campaigning against this long-running scandal.”

Tomorrow Splash hears from some of the world’s top shipowning organisations, but not all of them. Check the site on Friday to find out which famous shipping bodies have chosen not to support our campaign.

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.
Back to top button