With ship abandonments more than doubling from 40 in 2019 to 85 in 2020, shipowners are wriggling out of paying seafarers wages for work already done.
New figures released by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) show that $44 613 880 of seafarers' owed wages were recovered by the ITF’s network of inspectors across the world last year.
‘Owed wages’ are usually pay, bonuses or entitlements that are unpaid by a shipowner or their agent for work already completed.
“The pandemic has proved genuinely difficult for some shipowners who were already running marginally viable operations,” says ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale. “Some have struggled to pay for more expensive repatriation flights than what they’re used to in order to get seafarers home, and the new cost of quarantine. But financial challenges faced by companies are no reason to suspend the payment of wages or not uphold seafarers’ human rights,” said Trowsdale.
“Every dollar recovered by the ITF and our inspectors is income that seafarers and their families are counting on. This is money they earned, need and deserve.”
The number of vessels listed on the international abandonment database rose from 34 in 2018, to 40 in 2019, to a record high of 85 in 2020.
High-profile cases include that of Mohammad Aisha, a Syrian seafarer who was made legal guardian of the Bharaini-flagged Aman. Aisha was forced to live on the abandoned vessel for four years while Egyptian authorities tried to sell the ship to pay the owners’ debts. When the ITF became involved in December, it took just five months to get Aisha home.
In 2020 the ITF submitted a record number of abandonment cases to the International Labour Organization. The ITF lodged 60 of the 85 the cases which appeared in the ILO abandonment database last year, representing hundreds of seafarers who were owed wages, repatriation flights, or both.