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Maritime’s rogues outnumbered samaritans during COVID-19


Blatant disregard for seafarers out of control

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) revealed close to US$45 million of seafarers’ wages were recovered globally in 2020. Ship abandonment numbers also peaked at 85 last year – doubled from 40 in 2019.

Maritime’s samaritans and rogues
COVID-19 unmasked the samaritans and rogues in maritime. The samaritans used it to enhance their benefits extended to the crew onboard via launching their vaccination programmes, even making efforts to reach out to ports for vaccination assistance. But, unfortunately, rogues made more appearances without any remorse; through poor living conditions onboard, unpaid wages controlled movements, and turning a blind eye to distressed nationalities on an international scale.

Steve Trowsdale, ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator said the owed wages figure was substantial considering how difficult it has been to board ships due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by governments, health and port authorities. However, despite restrictions, ITF’s inspectors successfully helped seafarers with 7,476 cases in 2020, with more than 6,000 vessels boarded. While the number of atrocities increased, ITF’s performance in assisting seafarers in terms of numbers did not waver. He added, “Despite fewer inspections that we were able to undertake due to COVID-19’s social distancing requirements and restrictions, our inspectors recovered almost the same amount of owed wages for seafarers as we did last year.”

Cutting corners to cut dollars
Trowsdale acknowledged the pandemic cost several shipowners substantial monetary losses. However, the added pressure of inflated repatriation costs and quarantine are no justifications for compromising seafarers’ human rights. Above all, the most agonising part is seafarers being abandoned in record numbers. ITF has been actively helping hundreds of abandoned seafarers access food, water, fuel and transport home. As a result, the number of vessels listed on the international abandonment database rose steadily from 34 to 40 (2018 – 2019), and record high of 85 in 2020.

An unforgettable case involved a Syrian seafarer stranded onboard for four years while Egyptian authorities tried to sell the vessel to pay the owners’ debts. ITF’s intervention facilitated the seafarer’s repatriation within just five months! To word it a less contentious way, it is everyone for themselves at a crucial time. However, did governments take it a step further to consider future implications on multilateral relations?


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