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A view from the FOC'SLE #12: Abandoned Ship Crew

BLOG | August 2023

I hear some rumblings of thunder from my perch up here on the Foc’sle tonight, and your company is, as always, most welcome.

Last time, we went off watch with the thoughts that some crewing issues should merit further attention, and perhaps now is a good time to give them just that.

Barely a week goes by without my seeing an item in the maritime press concerning crew abandonment. The issue regarding blue water fishing crew being mistreated appears to receive far more attention than does the mistreatment of deep-sea ship crew. Neither have any place in our 21st Century.

abandoned ship crew
Photo Credit: Al Arabiya

To put it perhaps rather coldly, if this practice gains traction, the quality of people willing to go to sea will decline, and the entire industry will suffer as a result. Increasing consideration is being given to crew welfare by the better class of owner/manager, but the ‘bottom feeders’ remain. 

A well-renowned international ship survey company has laudably taken an interest in this issue and has found that 103 cases of abandonment, involving 1,682 seafarers, were reported in 2022 alone. They estimate that unpaid wages over the last 20 years amount to some $40 million.

Unfortunately, that company also finds that the Maritime Labour Convention has contributed to this problem rather than solving it, as recalcitrant owners simply rely on their MLC insurance to solve their problems, which it cannot adequately do.

Back when I was sitting for my Master’s Ticket, our lecturer in Shipmasters Business espoused that crew wage claims came at the top of the list of liens against a vessel. But this now no longer seems to be universally true with bunker suppliers, port authorities, and repair contractors appearing in many instances to be higher on the pecking list than crew.

The time taken by courts to resolve the matter of vessel arrest also appears to merit examination, as delays in handing down rulings often mean that the crew members remain unpaid and that water and food stocks run perilously low. I recall boarding a ship that was under arrest and finding that the crew had been reduced to catching rainwater in tarpaulins for washing, cooking, and drinking, and cooking was done over a fire on deck fuelled by odd bits of dunnage scoured from cargo holds. They had not been paid for over a year.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” as my dear old grandmother used to say.

The other related issue to this is the detention or imprisonment of crew members on spurious grounds.

Recently, we have seen the release of the entire crew of a VLCC  who have been imprisoned without trial for over a year in West Africa. It would appear that some authorities consider crew members can be treated as defenseless hostages to be held against vested interests.

Aggressive wording, perhaps, but I am not convinced otherwise.

abandoned ship crew 2
Photo Credit:

But whichever way one looks at it, our industry MUST take some positive action to get rid of delinquent or downright dishonest owners and streamline court procedures for our own good. IMO and Flag States must take the lead, but it is up to all of us to put our own oars in the water for this topic.

Some food for thought, perhaps, but until we meet again on the Foc’sle next month when we will be looking at a lighter topic, I wish you all a safe and productive month.

Your Lookout Man

capt jon elliot coastal marine

About The Lookout Man

Captain Jon Elliott

Capt. Jon began his seafaring career in 1960.  He spent 11 Years in Taiwan running US Lines and then moved to Singapore in 1980 where he eventually joined Matthews Daniel in Singapore in 1989 and becoming Far East Managing Director. Capt. Jon started his own company Elliott Associates Pte Ltd after his retirement to bring an enhanced level of loss prevention to the Asian Marine industry. Capt. Jon is a consultant to Coastal Marine Asia Holdings Limited in our Loss Prevention Division providing technical guidance to our underwriters, whilst arranging crew and management loss prevention training for some of our insureds.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article are personal to him and do not reflect the views of Coastal Marine or any of its employees, unless explicitly stated. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated. The author and Coastal Marine make no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of any information in the article and we do not accept any responsibility for the same. This publication is provided as-is without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non-infringement.

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