UAE FTA, ITF to Work on Solving Crew Abandonment as Owner Impunity Persists

Illustration; Image Courtesy: ITF

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federal Transport Authority (FTA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have agreed to work together to tackle abandonment cases in UAE waters.

FTA and ITF officials met this week to discuss the increasing number of abandonment cases faced by the UAE and the Gulf State’s desire to bring an end to the problem.

Both parties agreed to develop a protocol to govern a closer working relationship, including increased cooperation and information exchange.

The FTA officials announced that they would push for the UAE to ratify the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, and the ITF committed to provide advice, training and expertise to assist with this.

 “The scourge of shipowners who think that they can dump their ships and leave their crews without pay and essential supplies must be brought to an end. It is good to know that the FTA is taking the initiative and have already banned the vessels of one shipowner who repeatedly abused seafarers’ rights. This is setting a good example to other states in the region and I hope they will follow suit,” David Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section, said.

The move comes on the heels of FTA’s ban on Varun’s ships from calling the UAE ports earlier this month.

India-based LPG shipowning company is a repeat offender when it comes to seafarer abandonment cases in UAE ports and waters.

The latest instance of crew abandonment involves the company’s 1991-built ship Maharshi Vamandeva.

The ship’s crew has been abandoned and left without basic provisions and fuel as well as lack of medical care. The seafarers have also been denied their salaries.

Separately, Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) today called for renewed and reinvigorated international efforts to deliver faster solutions, effective remedies and repatriation for all stranded and abandoned seafarers in the global shipping industry, and a greater focus on naming and shaming owners who otherwise revel in their impunity from being held accountable.

According to HRAS, the shipping community, as a body, lacks firm leadership and effective tools to end owner’s impunity from prosecution, provide effective sanctions, and fails to provide an effective remedy for the very human beings which provide the lifeblood of the industry, and its profit.

Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said in June of this year, that amid industry concerns and the media coverage about unreported crew abandonment cases IMO, along with ILO, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have been working hard to address these matters, adding that ILO’s database on abandonment cases has been updated.

Over the last five years, 12 to 19 crew abandonment incidents were reported annually and 1,013 seafarers were involved in total, the International Labour Organization (ILO) told World Maritime News.

Furthermore, figures from this year, as of July 31, show that 28 abandonment cases were reported, involving 339 seafarers.

However, HRAS claims that this is not true as many cases being tackled by the charity have not been included in the database.

Furthermore, the ILO database, originally supported by the International Shipsuppliers & Services Association and established on 1 April 2005, is said to have been handed over to a commercial company, Right Ship.

A question is being raised if UN bodies cannot achieve what is needed with senior diplomatic intervention, what real hope is there?

“Progress on this issue continues to be painfully slow and the true reality is that the industry really does not care despite what is postured and articulated by retained media teams keen to keep positive messaging flowing,” HRAS said.

According to the charity, a potential way forward should include identifying the weaknesses and individual failures to address impunity at state-level, and holding port and flag states accountable, where applicable.

“Get the issue on the table as a long-term priority at the IMO and ILO and provide a long-term solution, not soundbites, and certainly not have it undertaken behind closed doors thereby exacerbating the current lack of transparency in the shipping community.

“In the meantime, the evidence being submitted to our charity tells a compelling story of owners who continue to revel in their impunity. Further, it appears that crews around the world increasingly realize that other routes for reporting their plight are being quietly suppressed, are overseen and funded by entities with vested interests in controlling the narrative and the data, and as a consequence, their stories are rarely told,” HRAS said.

As an example, Human Rights at Sea pointed to the case of Indian seafarers stranded on the MT Dharmaa vessel abandoned off the UAE coast in Ajman anchorage for the past ten months.

“The state of the MT Dharma vessel reportedly owned by Alco Shipping Services, … is factually terrible. From the presented evidence, it appears unseaworthy and despite the pleas of an experienced Master, his voice has been left unheard, until now,” HRAS said.

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