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ITF Reports “Worrying Increase” in Vessel and Crew Abandonment in 2023

abandoned vessel
An abandoned crew in 2020 painted messages that they had no food or money on the hull of their ship (NUSPM)

Published Jan 22, 2024 5:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) is reporting what it is calling a “worrying increase” in the number of reports of vessel and crew abandonment in 2023. The organization which is a federation of independent trade unions has representatives around the world that seafarers can seek out for support and also to assist in cases including wage disputes and abandonment.

The ITF is reporting a nearly 11 percent increase in the total number of abandonment complaints filed with the organization in 2023. The figure is on the rise they report with 13 additional reports in 2023 over 2022, bringing the number to a total of 132 vessels reported by crewmembers as abandoned last year.

"The ongoing rise in the number of seafarer abandonments is unacceptable. It is a consequence of an industry where the seafarer can be a throw-away commodity,” said Steve Trowsdale, ITF Inspectorate Coordinator. “Seafarers and their families pay the ultimate price for the greed and non-compliance of ship owners, enduring the inhuman consequences of a system that compromises their well-being, dignity, and basic human rights.”

Trowsdale reports the ITF seeks to hold ship owners accountable and enforces the provisions agreed to under the Maritime Labour Convention. First agreed to in 2006, and amended since then in meetings with the large unions and ship owners, it sets out basic terms and rights for seafarers.

Under the terms of the MLC, a seafarer is deemed to have been abandoned if the shipowner fails to cover the cost of a seafarer’s repatriation or has left them without the necessary maintenance and support. Failing to pay wages for at least two months or serving contact with a vessel is also considered abandonment.

According to the details released by the ITF, they were involved in 129 cases when seafarers were owned wages with total claims of more than $12.1 million in the reported cases. They expect the total value of the claims to increase further as it takes time to settle claims and for other seafarers to come forward with the reports. The ITF reports it has received more than $10.9 million in owed wages from 60 of these vessels so far.

India, one of the largest nations supplying seafarers, also had the highest number of seafarers abandoned. ITF reports more than 400 cases involving Indian seafarers. In total, they report 1,676 seafarers contacted ITF from abandoned vessels seeking help to obtain back wages and repatriation home.

Aid organizations and charities also step in to help the crew which often finds themselves left without food supplies and no money for provisions of travel. Last year, another group RightShip reported it dealt with 103 cases of abandonment involving 1,682 seafarers in 2022. They were calling for more action by the labor groups while cautioning the total number of seafarers abandoned in the past two decades was quickly approaching a total of 10,000 people and more than 700 vessels.