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Seafarers Seize Ship Over Owed Wages and Owner Neglect

ITF image of a freighter
Image courtesy ITF

Published Feb 7, 2023 11:14 AM by International Transport Workers' Federation

Four seafarers, with assistance from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), have seized a cargo ship off the port of Dakar in Senegal after months without pay and mounting danger to their lives.

The four crew of the MV Onda (IMO 8912467) had been battling to have the engine of their vessel repaired. Port authorities have ignored their requests for help for more than a year.

Acting on behalf of the four crew, the ITF went to a Senegalese court to have the ship legally seized, as its ongoing position near a busy shipping lane left crew and others vulnerable to collision at night, with no engine to power the vessel’s warning lights.

The vessel remains seized until the owners pay the more than USD $84,000 owed in wages to the beleaguered crew. Seizing the vessel means the ship cannot be used by its owner until the debts are settled.

The ITF is also claiming costs from the owners as they left the ship at anchor for lengthy periods without providing adequate provisions for the crew, as a shipowner is obliged to under the Maritime Labour Convention and most seafarer contracts. The ITF has stepped in on several occasions to ensure the seafarers did not starve.

The ITF has confirmed that Mr Nguetsop Pierre Robinson, of Cameroon, has presented himself to the crew as the new owner of the ship. He has attempted to trick the crew into putting the vessel back into operation in exchange for empty promises that they will be paid at some point in the future. The crew have been advised that they stand very little chance of recovering what they’re owned if they accept this kind of deal.

In late January, the lawyers of the owner made a new approach, upping their offer to get the Onda moving. In trying to cut a deal with the Master of the vessel to get the vessel moving, they offered him a paltry USD $33,000. Well short of the $55,000 in wages the captain is owed. With his consent, the ITF rejected this insulting offer on behalf of the captain.

Senegal violates international law

However, the crew find themselves in limbo because they cannot leave the ship to go home while the dispute continues and port authorities have refused help despite clear obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) which Senegal has ratified. The MLC is also known as the 'Seafarers’ Bill of Rights'.

However, the authorities in Dakar refused to allow the ship into the port, claiming the port was too busy. The officials have persistently ignored requests from the ITF to intercede on behalf of the seafarers. They are effectively violating the terms of the MLC which gives them a clear responsibility to protect seafarer welfare when neither owner nor flag State steps in. In this case, the owners allowed registration of the ship to lapse some time ago, meaning there is no flag State. 

Video footage from French journalist Hugo Clement of TV Station France 5, who visited the ship in the last few weeks, shows it in an unsafe state of repair with dangerous control systems and unusable life boats. As the ITF reported last year, the ship is in a busy anchorage and has intermittently been left without lights at night putting the crew, and the crews of any ship that might collide with the Onda, in peril. 

“The Onda has been described as a ghost ship,” said Steve Trowsdale, Inspectorate Coordinator at the ITF, “left to its fate by the owners and authorities. Both have completely neglected their responsibilities to look after the crew. They seem not to care that four human beings have been left to rot with inadequate food and water and no way off the ship.”

“The ITF has seized the ship and is demanding that the owners pay the crew what they are owed, together with expenses the ITF has incurred, and the cost of getting the seafarers home. If they don’t respond, the next stage will be to go back to court to have the ship auctioned off to recoup this money," said the ITF's Trowsdale.

"The owners have been put on notice. These seafarers have suffered for long enough. I will have no hesitation in taking that step if they do not respond promptly," he said.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.