Ship abandonments soared in 2020

There were 85 ship abandonments reported in 2020, compared with 40 in 2019 and just 34 the year before that, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has said.

ITF Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale said that in addition to recovering wages, the ITF had been involved in helping hundreds of seafarers who were abandoned by shipowners, helping seafarers get access to food, water, fuel and flights home.

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 Bahrain-flagged 4,028 gt 1999-built  MV Aman (IMO 9215517). 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.

Trowsdale said that the number of cases officially reported and recorded by the IMO were “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to instances of abandonment and owed wages.  “Abandonment is on the rise, and sadly a reason for that rise has been Flag States not standing up to their responsibilities to seafarers. Flag States are supposed to ensure that ships that fly their flags are paying seafarers on time, repatriating them at the end of contracts, and providing the necessities of life,” said Trowsdale.

Human Rights at Sea and global law firm Reed Smith have published legal advice for crew who become stranded. The team have produced a draft alert letter to send to owners, operators, managers, flag state and Port State Control.