Being a seafarer is all but an easy task and the fate of 57 Ukrainian seafarers that managed to return home after being left high and dry for over a year at sea proves that.
The seafarers in question include 27 crew members of MV Mekong Spirit and MV Free Neptune, according to the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU), which has managed to repatriate the mariners with the help of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
The seafarers of the Maltese-flagged containership Mekong Spirit were stuck in Greece after their ship was detained off the island of Crete on May 25, 2017 on suspicion of smuggling military goods to countries/regions under United Nations sanctions.
The ship was escorted to a NATO base where a cargo inspection performed by the relevant Greek authorities, found that the cargo was legal and industrial. Nevertheless, since January 2018, the seafarers were prohibited from leaving the territory of Greece.
Following a legal proceedings, on July 23 a court decision was issued, allowing 12 crew members to leave the territory of Greece, subject to compulsory monthly registration at the Consulate General of Greece in Ukraine. On July 28, 2018, the seafarers returned back home, MTWTU said.
“It was like an American action movie, when masked people climbed the ship and put us all on the deck face down,” recalls the Mekong Spirit oiler.
Another 5 Ukrainian crew members remain in Greece until the final decision on the case is taken by local justice.
One of the most notorious cases, widely covered by the world media, is that of MV Free Neptune, a Liberia-flagged bulker, and its seafarers, who were abandoned and unpaid for 32 months 4 miles offshore Oman.
The ship was owned by Greek shipowners Free Bulkers SA, which declared bankruptcy in 2016 and abandoned the bulk carrier with 22 Ukrainian seafarers on board.
“The wages were not paid, but they persuaded us that they were about to pay. Then they took the ship to Oman, and that’s it, we were caught in a mousetrap,” says the 3rd engineer of MV Free Neptune.
Due to poor living conditions, lack of food and medical supplies, the Ukrainian sailors resorted to a hunger strike at the end of 2016 to draw attention to their problems.
The ITF helped to purchase food, and the Ukrainian Consul in Saudi Arabia assisted with provision supply, MTWTU said.
In February 2017, seven seafarers returned home. In accordance with the MLC, 2006 Convention, the repatriation was organized by the Liberia Maritime Authority, the vessel’s flag state.
In 2018, through the ITF-led efforts a court authorized the remaining crew members to legally leave the ship and the seafarers managed to obtained a partial wage balance settlement.