Crew members are dumped on record numbers of ships without pay, meals or return trips

Constanta, Romania-An engineer stuck on an abandoned cargo ship at the port of the Black Sea waited four years before receiving payment and returning home.

Off the coast of Somalia, the pirate-trotden Indian Ocean suffers from crew waiting for salary while the ship slowly draws water. Another 14 sailors stuck on a freighter off Iran ran out of food and fuel. Some people are thinking about suicide.

“We can’t survive here,” said an engineer on an MVA izdihar abandoned from Iran’s port city of Bandar Abbas. “Help us.” He spoke in a video earlier this year and painted his face.

The $ 14 trillion shipping industry, which accounts for 90% of world trade, has left what appears to be a record number. Drifter of a cargo ship. According to the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, abandonment cases are counted if the shipowner does not pay the crew more than two months or pay the cost to bring the crew home.

Last year, the number of such cases reported to distributors doubled from 40 in 2019 to 85. This year it is getting worse.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation, a trade union, estimates that more than 1,000 seafarers are currently abandoned on container and bulk carriers. Interviews with abandoned ship’s seafarers, shipowners, agents, maritime organizations, and union officials show that many crew members are hesitant to speak for fear of being blacklisted. Tolls can be high.

The union’s Middle East coordinator, Mohammed Arakedi, said he would wake up to dozens of WhatsApp messages from distraught sailors around the world. “This is a global humanitarian crisis.”

Abullah Dahha, captain of MV Ali Bey in the port of Constanta, Romania.

The remains of the Panama flag on the MV Ali Bey.

In the United Arab Emirates, a shipping company has abandoned seven container ships in recent months, leaving dozens of crew members, each paying a year’s worth of wages. Five crew members, anchored next to a tourist destination in Dubai, lived on rice for 10 months, but have completed the last four years of trials.

Last year, most Egyptian crew members were abandoned in Sudan. The ship was then sold and staffed by most Sudanese crew members abandoned in Egypt. Three of them are still on board and are floating unpaid from the Suez Canal in the ninth month.

Due to the surge in incidents, the world’s three largest sailors, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, proposed in August to establish a mutual emergency fund for seafarers to support abandoned crew members.

Trade turmoil caused by the nature of the pandemic and competitive, loosely regulated world shipping industry has helped increase the number of seafarers stuck.

According to New York-based investment manager Blue Alpha Capital, industry integration has created a half-dozen shipping company that ferry most of the world’s containers, and in the last three months of 2020, sea freight history. Record profits from the best quarters.

These companies have kicked out competitors who operate smaller, more devastated ships. Companies struggling are often one delay or cancellation from their founding. Some companies abandon the ship or sell it as scrap if the debt is piled up or the repair cost is too high.

It can usually take years to complete the sale. Travel bans in the pandemic era have become even more difficult, creating barriers for buyers, bankers, inspectors, or court officials to visit ships before trading.

When a shipping company runs out of money, the crew often gets nothing but an abandoned ship to crouch.

Some governments require seafarers to remain on board as guarantors until shipowners pay port authorities berthing and other charges.

Often, seafarers refuse to disembark and are confident that if they leave, they will never recoup their lost wages for months or years. Seafarers stuck on board usually borrow money from friends and family to feed themselves and their crew.

Many say it can take years for a ship to be sold as scrap rather than returning home empty-handed.

Under the Maritime Labor Convention, a UN-backed treaty that has been in force since 2013, cargo ship owners are required to take out insurance to care for their abandoned crew. Many Middle Eastern countries did not sign the treaty, did not enforce its rules, and allowed their coastline to become a graveyard for abandoned ships.

At the Suez harbor in Egypt, one of the busiest routes in the world, some sailors have been trapped in ships for years.

MV Kenan Mete’s 56-year-old Turkish captain, Vehbi Kara, was detained in Suez for a year while Egyptian authorities and shipowners were fighting for unpaid debt. He was repatriated in July. A nearby Syrian sailor, Mohammad Aisha, had been left in MV Aman for four years before disembarking in April.

Evergiven’s crew, who clogged the canal for six days in March, were detained on a freighter for four months before the shipowner signed a multi-million dollar compensation contract with Egyptian authorities for release.

“It’s a prison”

At the heart of the matter is the opaque way the shipping industry cracks down on itself. According to the IMO, shipowners have a primary responsibility for the welfare and well-being of their seafarers, but the abandonment of ships in many of the world’s oceans has little effect.

In 2016, most of the cargo ship Lady Didem was abandoned because its Syrian crew was not paid for a year. The seven sailors anchored in Greece for four months and borrowed from captain Wessam Al-Hamaud to buy food and water. The man sent a WhatsApp message to Mustafa Demirel, the Turkish manager of the ship. The ship was sold the following year. After receiving the payment, the crew left.

Mr Demirel said the crew were awkward employees who did not follow his arrangements and would have paid them if they left the ship. He accused sanctions on Syria’s banking system, but refused further explanation.

MV Ali Bey refueler Mansour Alaa talks to a Syrian family on a video call.

MV Alibay abandoned in Constanta harbor.

Another crew on board a ship managed by Mr. Demirel after noticing that an inspector at the port of Constanta and a shipping agent did not have a proper contract last year and some crew members were not paid. Member, MV Ali Bey, has been abandoned in Romania. over 1 year.

Since then, four crew members have remained on board, waiting for salary. Sometimes we rely on a small propane camp stove for heat and intermittent electricity. The crew agreed twice with the owner on a payment plan, but most of the money did not arrive, they said.

The dispute went to a Romanian court considering whether to transfer the case to Panama, where the ship is registered. The crew are afraid that if they give up going home, the billed wages can cost nearly $ 200,000.

To spend time, the crew plays cards and throws chicken bones at a stray dog ​​near the sleeper. They sit on the steps of a nearby duty-free shop and watch pedestrians enter and exit past the metal fences of the harbor. Most often, they lie in bed until late in the afternoon.

“We live in an iron chain. It’s a prison,” said Captain Abullah Dahha, who showed the WhatsApp message that plagued Captain Demirel. “He wants to break us.”

Mr Demirel said the crew should leave the ship and have the court settle the dispute.

The country in which the vessel is registered, called the flag state, is intended to ensure that the shipowner takes care of the seafarers and their vessels. But many don’t, said David Hammond, founder of the UK-based Human Rights at Sea advocacy group. Countries are required to ensure that the flag-raising vessel pays the seafarers on time, provides the provisions and returns them to their home country at the end of the contract.

“The flag state hot potato movement helps people alleviate the problem. It’s not anyone’s responsibility,” Hammond said.

In 2013, a Russian-owned MV Rhosus carrying 2,750 tonnes of deadly ammonium nitrate arrived at the port of Beirut and was abandoned due to lack of seaworthiness. The owner declared bankruptcy and disappeared, and the ship’s crew lost food and supplies.

A year later, the sailors evacuated and Lebanese authorities landed the chemicals. Last August, an ammonium nitrate store exploded, Kill over 200 people Caused billions of dollars in damage that destroyed Lebanon Capital and economy..

The UN Security Council met in June to discuss another vessel that authorities were concerned about causing a similar explosion.

Off the coast of Yemen, it is one of the largest oil supertankers in the world, carrying 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and corrupting in the war zone. A false rocket or a corroded steel hull of a ship can cause an explosion and a large outflow. Such disasters will disrupt food delivery to famine-risk countries and block routes to ports in the Red Sea.

Scary, hungry

Riasat Ali, a 52-year-old second engineer from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, went to MTIba in July 2017 under a 12-month contract that wanted to pay for her son’s college studies. I got in. Ali was still on a 5,000-ton Panama-flagged vessel four years later.

Immediately after he boarded, the crew was abandoned by its owner, Alco Shipping, and was unable to repay the debt. Ali and three other crew members (from India and Myanmar) spent the next 32 months trapped 12 miles off the United Arab Emirates. They ate food until they had a minimum of essentials left.

“Breakfast, lunch, supper, we ate only rice,” Ali said. “There was no sugar or salt.”

Faced with hunger, sailors turned to a mission to a charity, a British-based sailor, to deliver food and water. “We lived like slaves and begged for food,” said Indian engineer Vinay Kumar.

In January, a violent storm broke two anchors on MT Iba and the boat was listed at 45 degrees for a horrifying 12 hours. “I was on the bridge with the chief engineer. We were scared and couldn’t talk to each other,” Ali said. “We were trying to lie down, but the angle made us vomit.”

After drifting about 20 miles, the ship ran ashore opposite Umm Al Khai Wine Beach, a weekend vacation spot popular with Dubai people, especially for kitesurfing.

Ali and his sailors were allowed to leave the ship in February after being sold to another company based in Dubai. The company has agreed to pay 70% of the crew’s $ 230,000 unpaid wages.

A coarse-eyed sailor in a torn T-shirt got off the ship’s ladder and swam to the shore to collect checks. “We couldn’t get what we deserved,” Ali said.

Write to Drew Hinsho And at Joe Parkinson

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Crew members are dumped on record numbers of ships without pay, meals or return trips

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