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Stakeholders express concern over abandoned seafarers on vessels

By Adaku Onyenucheya
13 October 2021   |   2:48 am
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has expressed concern about the over 1,000 seafarers currently abandoned on container ships and bulk carriers.

Seafarers. Photo: BULK

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has expressed concern about the over 1,000 seafarers currently abandoned on container ships and bulk carriers.

The ITF Middle East Coordinator, Mohamed Arrachedi, expressed worry on the messages received by the union from distraught sailors around the world, describing it as a “global humanitarian crisis.”

The ITF coordinator, said the $14 trillion shipping industry, responsible for 90 per cent of the world trade, has left in its wake, what appears to be a record number of cargo-ship castaways.

Arrachedi said shipping companies abandon container ships leaving behind dozens of crew members, each owed a year’s wages.

Also, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had disclosed that the abandonment cases of seafarers were due to the inability of shipowners to pay crews their wages.

The ITF coordinator said the number of such cases reported to the agency, which doubled in 2020 as against 2019, has become worse this year.

Arrachedi added that trade disruptions caused by the pandemic and the nature of the competitive – lightly regulated global shipping industry, has also helped to drive the increase in the number of stranded sailors.

Arrachedi noted that the surge in cases prompted three of the world’s largest seafaring nations—China, Indonesia and the Philippines—to propose in August, the establishment of a seafarers’ mutual emergency fund to help abandoned crews.

The ITF coordinator noted that some of the shipping companies choose to abandon a ship or sell it for scrap when the cost of debts piles up or the cost of repairs becomes too high.

The Guardian learnt that completing a sale can take years in normal times, while the pandemic-era travel restrictions have made it even harder, creating barriers for buyers, bankers, inspectors or court officials to visit ships ahead of transactions.

Also, some governments require sailors to remain aboard as guarantors until shipowners pay port authorities for berth fees and other charges.

The ITF coordinator revealed that under the Maritime Labour Convention, a United Nations-backed treaty in effect since 2013, cargo-ship owners are required to hold insurance to care for abandoned crews, but many Middle Eastern nations did not sign the treaty and don’t enforce its rules, allowing their coastlines to become graveyards for dumped ships.