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Abandoned Seafarers

Some shipowners don’t take their responsibilities for their crews seriously. This can result in seafarers being abandoned in ports far from home without fuel, food and water and without pay for months on end. 

Abandonment happens either because the shipowners have financial difficulties or because they can make more money by not paying the wages and the bills they owe. This may be more frequent on older ships at the end of their sea life. In some cases the ship is worth less than the money owed to crew and other debtors.

On 18 January 2017 important new rules came into force on abandonment.

Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) shipowners must have insurance to assist the seafarers on board vessels if they are abandoned. It is mandatory for the insurance certificate to be posted in a visible place for you to see and should provide the name of the insurer or financial provider, and their contact details

All ships, to which the convention applies, whose flag states have ratified the MLC must have the insurance certificate on board and on show in English. You can check who has ratified the convention here

How to minimize the risk of being abandoned

Before accepting a position on board, find out as much information as you can about the company and the vessel you will be joining, especially look for indications of problems on board. You can use:

  • The Look Up section of the ITF Seafarers website ( website to check if the vessel is covered by an ITF agreement.  Alternatively download the free ITF Seafarers app available from the Google Play Store and Apple Store
  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers.  Note: It is better to search by IMO number if possible as the name of the vessel may have changed.

If you are recruited through a crewing agency, try to make sure that the agency is properly run and has a system for checking the stability of the companies for which they supply crew. Check maritime social media to see which companies are the subject of frequent complaints by other seafarers.

Here is what you need to do:

If you think that you are in danger of abandonment, DO NOT WAIT. If your shipowner does not respond, contact the insurance company.

Abandonment occurs when the shipowner:

  • fails to cover the cost of the seafarer’s repatriation; or
  • has left the seafarer without the necessary maintenance and support; or
  • has otherwise unilaterally severed their ties with the seafarer including failure to pay contractual wages for a period of at least two months’

The insurance will cover you for up to four months outstanding wages and entitlements in line with your employment agreement or CBA – SO DON’T LEAVE IT TOO LATE If you wait six months to apply, you’ll only receive four months backpay.

The insurance must also cover reasonable expenses such as repatriation, food, clothing where necessary, accommodation, drinking water, essential fuel for survival on board and any necessary medical care. It will apply from the moment of abandonment to the time of arrival back home.

Members of the International Group of P&I Clubs have set up 24-hour emergency helplines. The details will be on that insurance certificate that must be publicly visible. Check it now. If you think it is not real or you feel you are in danger of being abandoned use the helpline number now.

REMEMBER, you can always contact an ITF Inspector or an ITF affiliated union using the ITF Seafarers app or the Look Up section of the ITF Seafarers website or by contacting the ITF Seafarers’ Support team by email at 

IG of P&I Clubs:

The Swedish Club - Tel 00 46 31 151 328
UK P&I Club - Tel +44 (0) 20 7283 4646 *
Skuld - Tel 0047 22 00 22 00 0047 952 92 200
Britannia - Tel 00 44 (0)207 407 3588
Steamship Mutual - Tel 00 44 (0) 247 9490
Gard mlc& Tel 0047 90524100
The London P&I Tel 00 44 (0) 20 7772 8000
West of England - +44 7795 116602
North Tel 00 44 (0) 1912325221
The Standard Tel 0044 79 3211 3573
The American Tel + 001 212 847 4500
The Japan Ship Owners’ Mutual Protection & Indemnity Association Tel +81 3 3662 7221