Sadly, cases of seafarer abandonment are not uncommon. What is, however, is the way that Nautilus International has decided to brand recent actions involving the crew onboard a Turkish vessel as modern-day slave labour.
The maritime trade union has lodged protests with the Turkish owners of the 1,596 gt general cargo ship Seccadi and the Panama registry over “terrible conditions” onboard the vessel. The ship was detained in the UK port of Runcorn on June 22 and the nine crew onboard were found to have no fresh fruit or meat and were owed almost USD43,000 in back pay. Some crew had finished their contracts two months before.
Speaking to Safety at Sea, Nautilus International/International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) ship inspector Tommy Molloy said that the organisation hoped that by referring to such incidents as slave labour, the shipowners and flag states involved could get brought to justice so the crews paid what they are owed and repatriated quicker.
According to Nautilus, some of the Seccadi’s seafarers had to take out loans or pay money to get a job on the ship, including paying for their own flights from their homes to and from Turkey so that the company could then fly them to the ship. The Turkish and Indian crew were also found to have wages below International Labour Organisation minimums,
ranging between USD250 and USD700 per month for Able Seamen (Abs).
Mindful that despite the MLC 2006 having been ratified and “we cannot insist ILO wages be paid to crew”, Molloy confirmed that Nautilus and ITF are “very keen” to push this kind of treatment as modern-day slave labour with the UK Border Agency.
“You have guys on that kind of money and enduring those kinds of conditions, while Flag States and Insurers don’t consider it slavery, what else is it?”
He added that the UK Border Force “is keen to try to diminish” these kinds of all-too-common occurrences by reporting it under modern-day slavery rules. This is being done in the hope that reporting it as slavery may get the attention of the International Police Organisation Interpol.
It could also help to tackle repeat offenders, like the owner of Seccadi; Voda Shipping of Turkey.
Molloy told Safety at Sea that Voda Shipping also recently had another two abandoned ships in the UK, Tashin in Sharpness, near Bristol and Reggae in Thirsk, Scotland.
“They are exactly the same stories and the same situations,” he said. He hopes re-labelling these instances as modern-day slave labour will spur companies to change their ways.
Thankfully the crew of Seccadi have since been paid their back-wages and repatriated, however Molloy knows this is never the end of the story.
Crew on board the Voda-owned vessel in Scotland were eventually also repatriated and paid back-wages at the cost of the company. While the case may have appeared to be over Molloy said he stayed in touch with the crew members, including two brothers that got halfway home only to have their plane tickets cancelled.
“They had to stump up from the wages they had just recovered to pay for the rest of their fare home and then a 20 hour bus to their destination.”
Another crew member had to leave their luggage at the airport because the company had not paid for him to take the standard 30kg luggage on his flight home. According to Molloy, the seafarer had no money on him and had to spend a 14.5 hour layover without any food.
“The contempt the owners show on ongoing basis is almost beyond belief,” he added.
Since the start of March 2014 there have been 159 cases of seafarer abandonment according to the International Labour Organization. Every effort must always be taken to hold shipowners willing to ignore the welfare of their crew for the sake of profit to account.
And perhaps by following Nautilus’ example and recategorising their treatment of crew to slavery - we as an industry can ensure that seafarer’s rights are kept firmly in the spotlight.