Stuck on Board for a Year, Syrian Crew Alleges Threats and Abandonment

Cranes at the port of Constanta, Romania (Pixabay / public domain)

Published Sep 17, 2021 3:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

A plague of crew abandonment has swept through the lower end of the maritime industry over the past year, with dozens of small shipowners allegedly walking away from their financially-distressed vessels and leaving the crews behind - often without pay. 

“We’re still living here in the vessel like a jail . . . we can not go outside, we can not make anything, we live only in the shipping and the berth and now also winter is coming," said Capt. Abdullah Dahha, master of the allegedly abandoned vessel Ali Bey, in a recently-released video appeal. 

The Ali Bey's ship manager is housed in an unmarked waterfront office in Istanbul's tidy Kadikoy district, just above an upscale natural-products store. It is just one of the scores of companies alleged to have abandoned vessels at the pier since the start of the pandemic. According to the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a record 85 cases of vessel abandonment were reported in 2020. 

The Ali Bey's Syrian crew have been aboard the detained vessel at the port of Constanta, Romania since last November, and they are still waiting for a claimed $186,000 in allegedly unpaid back pay. According to ITF's local coordinator, the last four holdouts have received threats from the shipowner's representatives, including warnings that they could be blacklisted and reported to the authorities for demanding their wages.  

In September, Capt. Dahha told the British NGO Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) that he recently received a strange visit from an unknown man who offered to settle with the four remaining crewmembers for $110,000 - about 60 percent of what they are owed. Dahha refused the offer, but he said that the crew is concerned about retaliation. The ITF is helping them out with food, water and electricity, he said, but the conditions on board are poor. 

In a recent update, the local ITF coordinator asserted that the shipowner has sued him personally for reporting the abandonment case to the authorities. The crew has engaged its own lawyer, backed by ITF, and is awaiting a legal resolution of their case. 

"Our lives are lived between the berths," Capt. Dahha said. "We need to finish this case."

The Ali Bey's operator has no publicly-available contact information and could not be reached for comment.