Who are Abandoned Seafarers?

A major problem plaguing the international seafarers is that of abandonment. Seafarers are vital cogs in the maritime domain and as such, abandonment issues are a priority required to be resolved as early as they could be.

The term abandonment with respect to shipping professionals refers to the ill-treatment meted out by the vessel’s owner to the seafarers aboard his vessel. This includes lack of medical attention, lack of remuneration exceeding over two months, lack of food, inadequate residential facilities and case of a seafarer’s extradition, failure to provide the necessary costs to cover it.

This definition has been prescribed by the Maritime Labour Convention. The MLC is a body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convened in the year 2006 and as such is thoroughly binding.

Representation Image – Photograph by Delimajunel

Problems Caused because of Abandonment

While the definition of abandonment has been clarified, it becomes important to understand why the mariners are abandoned by the vessel owners at large. The main problem is because of lack of finance which in-turn leads to a few more problems like unresolved debts and creditors.

On account of the ship owner being incapable of generating required funds and continuing with the marine operations, the seamen are left without any support whatsoever. As a result, they are left to fend for themselves irrespective of their location and position. Such abandonment thus finds some seafarers suffering at sea and some languishing at international ports.

But even while their circumstances are quite deplorable, because of the vastness of the maritime domain, helping these abandoned seafarers becomes quite problematic. Starting with the vessel’s nativity and its port of registration, there are complications which mean that the seafarers cannot hope to find immediate action to ease their torment.

Changes in Law

After observing the plight of the shipping professionals, proactive efforts have started to be made to help the suffering seamen. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the ILO have started to work in tandem to come up with solution providing measures. One of the solutions that they have hit upon involves the creation of the Maritime Labour Convention in the year 2006 to clearly define the aspects of abandonment. Since the MLC only talks about the scope and extent of abandonment, there are two amendments provided to the convention through which, it has been hoped to achieve a greater extent of reach about the issue.

Three of the measures that have been employed to tackle the problem of abandonment are:

  • Stringent policies to verify the financial credibility of a ship’s owner before the vessel embarks on a journey
  • In case of a vessel already on water, checking the financial credibility of the owner before the ship makes a halt in any port across the world
  • Adequate financial reserve to aid the abandoned seamen in times of need

In addition to this joint venture, there is also the SRI (Seafarers’ Rights International) which has been set up to address the needs and concerns of the abandoned international seafarers. There is also the Seafarers Union which functions as a body of authority for United States’ seafarers specifically.

While the efforts are being made, the results that are hoped for are slow in coming. But alongside these efforts, there exist humanitarian organisations which provide comfort and solace that the seafarers and their families in their worst let-down professionally. Such help goes a long way in restoring the morale and faith of not just mariners but also of their families.

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