Abandonment affects real people, often leaving them in a desperate plight. Loss of wages impacts the seafarer and their family. Health may suffer and there may not be medical help. Food supplies may run out. Uncertainty about how and when the seafarer or seafarers can get home can cause a huge toll.
IMO is continuing to focus its efforts on improving the situation usually through the diplomatic efforts of the Secretariat and the IMO Secretary-General. The issue of abandonment of seafarers has been recognized as a serious issue by Secretary-General Kitack Lim.
The IMO Legal Committee is the main forum where the issue is discussed. Updates from IMO and ILO secretariats are provided and the Committee meetings provide an opportunity for the issue of abandonment to be raised. The Legal Committee is attended by representatives from Member States as well as relevant international NGOS in consultative status representing the shipping industry, charities and seafarers.
Seafarer-related issues constitute a continuing thread that has run through IMO's work for several decades. On the one hand, the clear understanding that seafarers are ultimately responsible for implementing many of IMO's measures have led to standards for seafarer training, certification and watchkeeping being developed and enshrined in the STCW Convention.
On the other hand, a related concern for their welfare, both as employees and as individuals, is evident in IMO’s continuing work on issues such as fatigue, fair treatment and liability and compensation for seafarers.
IMO’s annual Day of the Seafarer, celebrated each year on June 25th, is the Organization's global campaign to give wider recognition to seafarers.
Seafarer abandonment is a serious problem that can blight the lives of those caught up in it. It must be tackled and it needs continual cooperation, not just between IMO and ILO and non-governmental organizations devoted to seaman’s welfare, but with flag States, port States and other industry groups too. We all have a human duty to protect seafarers
Guidelines and MLC regulations
A joint working group of IMO and the International Labour Organization (ILO), which reported to both IMO's Legal Committee and ILO's governing bodies, developed Guidelines on Liability and Compensation regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers.
Then, new obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) were developed and adopted in 2014. These require shipowners to have compulsory insurance to cover abandonment of seafarers, as well as claims for death or long-term disability of seafarers. (See 2014 MLC amendments)
In 2017, the MLC amendments entered into force.
Seafarer abandonment - a real problem
The stressful and inhumane consequences for the abandoned crew on board, and for their families, may be illustrated with the recent cases of a total of 14 Indonesian crew in Port Alang, India, on board the Miss Gaunt and Northwind. Both ships are registered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the registry of Curaçao. In January and February 2019, IMO continuously received messages from the crew that they were not being paid by the shipowner nor by the insurer. Therefore, they could not provide the necessary means of living for their families and young children whom they also had not seen for more than seven months. Meanwhile, the crew also could not be repatriated because the port State, India claimed that the ships could not be moved to a safe lay-up harbour and that a new replacement (skeleton) crew was required.
Furthermore, these two abandonment cases were connected to the abandonment of another eight Indonesian seafarers on board the AHT Carrier in the port of Maputo in Mozambique. All three ships are insured with the same insurer and beneficially owned or managed by the same company.
Through the continuous and substantial involvement of the IMO and ILO Secretariats, the insurer has now paid four months' wages of all of the crew of the Miss Gaunt. All the crew members were finally repatriated by the end of March 2019, and a similar solution seems to be under way for the crew of the Northwind. The crew of the AHT Carrier was also repatriated. However, these cases can only be considered as being resolved if all outstanding wages have been paid in full.
On 31 December 2018, there were 366 abandonment incidents listed in the database since it was established in 2004, affecting 4,866 seafarers. Of those incidents, 175 cases were resolved, 77 cases were disputed and 52 cases were inactive. There were still 52 unresolved cases.
From 2011 to 2016, the number of cases per year ranged from 12 to 19. In 2017 and 2018, the cases reported increased drastically. In 2017, there were 55 cases reported, 14 of which were resolved that year and eight were resolved in 2018. In 2018, the total number of reported cases was 44 and of these, 15 cases had so far been resolved as of 31 December 2018. Of the cases reported in 2018, eight involved flag States which had not ratified MLC, 2006, as follows: Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, the United Republic of Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.
Cases - examples
On 12 December 2018, IMO notified the United Arab Emirates in their capacity as a flag and port State that a total of 31 seafarers were recently reported as abandoned by ISWAN through ICS on board the following ships: Azraqmoiah; Tamim Aldar; MV Al Nader; MT Tamim and Abdulrazaq. Some of these abandonment cases lasted as long as 32 months.
Following the entry into force on 18 January 2017 of the 2014 amendments to MLC, 2006, concerning financial security in cases of abandonment, 97 abandonment cases have been reported to the joint IMO/ILO database. Within the period between 18 January 2017 and 31 December 2018, there were 11 reported cases of abandonment where the flag State was a Party to MLC, 2006 but had not yet sent to the ILO their declaration of acceptance of the 2014 amendments. These 11 cases concern ships registered in Belize, the Netherlands in respect of Curaçao, India and Mongolia. Of these 11 cases, the majority (7) are still disputed or unresolved.
Joint database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers
With the support of the International Ship Suppliers’ Association (ISSA), ILO and IMO established a joint database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers (it includes all cases reported after 1 January 2004).
The database can be accessed here.
The accuracy of the abandoned seafarer database is critical not only for supporting the interested parties to help resolve incidents of abandonment, but also for providing information to the public, including entities involved in providing financial security for cases of abandonment, as required by the 2014 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC)
The 2001 IMO/ILO Guidelines on abandoned seafarers say that a case of abandonment is characterized by the severance of ties between the shipowner and seafarer.
Abandonment occurs when the shipowner fails to fulfil certain fundamental obligations to the seafarer relating to timely repatriation and payment of outstanding remuneration and to the provision of basic necessities of life, inter alia, adequate food, accommodation, and medical care. Abandonment will have occurred when the master of the ship has been left without any financial means in respect of ship operation.
Categories on the database include:
- “resolved cases”
- “unresolved cases”
- “disputed cases”
- “‘inactive cases”’ which, though not resolved, are no longer active.
Process to address a case of abandonment
The process agreed by IMO/ILO is that:
- a Member State or organization accredited to ILO or IMO sends information to ILO regarding a new case.
- ILO will send this information for verification to IMO to check information given on the IMO number, flag, type of vessel, company and registered owner.
- IMO sends (modified as necessary) the information back to ILO; and following consultations between IMO and ILO, the information is entered on a restricted, i.e. non-public and password-restricted website.
- Interested parties are notified by IMO of new entries and then have an opportunity to provide further information within 10 working days.
- Thereafter the information is released for public access at http://www.ilo.org/dyn/seafarers/seafarersbrowse.home. If necessary, different points of view will be reflected.
- A case of abandonment would be considered as resolved if, and only if, ILO has received clear advice from the Member State or organization having originally provided the information that:
- the totality of the crew has been successfully repatriated; and
- the totality of all outstanding remuneration and contractual entitlements have been paid and duly received by all the crew members.
Generally speaking, the IMO Secretariat will contact the flag State and the port State (location of abandonment) to ask for information and to advise on relevant guidelines and application of the MLC 2014 amendments. The IMO Secretariat may request a meeting with the relevant representative(s) and ask for expediency in resolving the particular case. Therefore IMO Secretariat acts at a diplomatic level.
Late in 2016 concerns were expressed, by both industry and media, that there were abandonment cases that had not been reported and some information in the database was not current. The ILO, IMO, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have since been working to address these matters on a continuous basis, and the database has been updated accordingly.
Who can report?
- A Member State or an organization accredited to ILO or IMO is entitled to report an abandonment incident. The following stakeholders are consequently entitled to report to the database:
- Flag States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State the flag of which the abandoned vessel is flying has the primary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the shipowner fails to make arrangements for, or to meet the cost of, repatriation.
- Port States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State in the port of which the abandoned vessel is situated has a secondary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher.
- Labour-supplying States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The country of nationality of the abandoned seafarer or fisher also has a responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the flag or port States fail to do so.
- NGOs with consultative or observer status in IMO or ILO.
How to report a case of seafarer abandonment
Relevant NGOs in consultative status with IMO include the following:
- International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF);
- International Chamber of Shipping (ICS);
- International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA);
- International Maritime Health Association (IMHA);
- International Association of Classification Societies (IACS);
- International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA);
- International Ship Suppliers & Services Association (ISSA);
- International Group of Protection and Indemnity Associations (P&I Clubs);
- International Harbour Masters' Association (IHMA);
- International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH); and
- The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew).
NGOs with consultative or observer status in ILO include the following:
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC);
International Organisation of Employers (IOE);
World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU);
Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU);
African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation;
Democratic Organization of African Workers' Trade Unions;
International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions;
General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries;
Association of Latin American Industrialists;
Latin American Central of Workers;
Caribbean Employers' Confederation;
Caribbean Congress of Labour;
Permanent Congress of Trade Union Unity of the Workers of Latin America;
Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers;
ASEAN Confederation of Employers;
Confederation of Asia Pacific Employers;
Brotherhood of Asian Trade Unionists;
European Trade Union Confederation; and
General Confederation of Trade Unions.