The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inspectors have helped seafarers recover nearly $45 million (N15.6 billion) in owed wages last year while cases of ship abandonments nearly doubled to a record high.
The inspectors have reportedly conducted more than 7,476 inspections globally in 2020 in 122 ports and 58 countries. Just in May 2021, one of the ITF inspectors based in Canada, Nathan Smith, helped seafarers recover $95,464.77 in owed wages.
“Owed wages” are usually pay, bonuses or entitlements that are unpaid by a shipowner or their agent for the work already done by a seafarer.
Meanwhile, the number of ship abandonments reported more than doubled from 40 in 2019, to 85 in 2020.
The ITF lodged 60 of the 85 cases which appeared in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) abandonment database last year, representing hundreds of seafarers who were owed wages, repatriation flights, or both.
ITF Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale said that the number of cases officially reported and recorded by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) “is just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to instances of abandonment and owed wages.
Trowsdale added the owed wages figure was substantial considering how difficult it has been for inspectors to board ships due to Covid-19 restrictions imposed by governments, health and port authorities.
“The pandemic has proved genuinely difficult for some shipowners who were already running marginally viable operations – some have struggled to pay for more-expensive repatriation flights than what they’re used to get seafarers home, and the new cost of quarantine,” said Trowsdale.
Despite the restrictions, inspectors have recovered almost the same amount of owed wages for seafarers as they did last year.
He also noted that the financial problems caused by the pandemic are no reason to uphold basic human rights to seafarers, especially when it comes to suspending the wages for the work they have provided.
ITF inspectors, who often conduct ‘inspections’ of vessels to ensure the health and safety of the crew, and that seafarers on board are fed, supported and paid, had some difficulties with in person inspections in some countries, due to the pandemic.
“Being unable to visit vessels in many places, our inspectors and contacts have had to work remotely and engage more than ever before with seafarers through digital channels like social media. The result has been the ITF holding the line for seafarers and their rights during the pandemic,” said Trowsdale.
One of the high profile cases they have resolved was the issue with the seafarer working on Bharani flagged MV Aman, Mohammed Aisha, who was forced to live on the vessel for four years.
When the ITF became involved in December, it took just five months to get Aisha home.
There are currently more than 300,000 seafarers working on vessels covered by the ITF agreement.
Last month, ITF also called for a global vaccination rollout to prevent the crew change crisis from spiralling out of control for the third time.