Seafarers may have reason to rejoice. Amendments to ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, adopted in June 2014 provide for an “expeditious and effective” financial security system to cover repatriation costs and unpaid wages when a ship’s crew is abandoned by the owner. How expeditious and effective? That is the big question.

MLC 2006 considers a seafarer abandoned when the shipowner has failed to cover the cost of the seafarer’s repatriation; left him or her without the necessary maintenance or support; or otherwise unilaterally cut ties with the seafarer, including not paying the agreed wages, for at least two months. Being stuck on board a ship for two months or longer with food, water and fuel running out could be quite hellish. ILO member states, through their consular officials, need to act quickly to come to the succor of their abandoned seamen. Will they?

The Convention states that the system can take various forms (social security scheme, insurance, national fund, etc) to be determined by the member state after consultation with the shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations concerned. There will be lots of talking. And more talking after the financial security sytem is put in place. Company lawyers are a shrewd lot; they will conjure up every possible obstacle to delay or reduce the moneys that are owed to abandoned seafarers.

Perhaps the most important question to ask: what happens to shipowners who abandon their crews either because they have fallen bankrupt or because they are just plain roguish? As things stand, there is no real accountability for shipowners who cause seamen great distress and suffering. No one seems to even want to blacklist them. ~Barista Uno


NOTE: Amendments to ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, concerning abandoned crews are available in our Downloads section. Please look for the file “Abandoned Seafarers – MLC 2006”.

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