Observations on seafarer abandonment
When abandoned on large vessels, seafarers are left alone to fend for themselves while corporations avoid their responsibilities. When those who destroy the lives of seafarers also employ them, it is, in all senses, deeply troubling.
Once abandoned, nightmare situations quickly develop for seafarers. In the worst cases, seafarers might commit suicide in despair. Seafarers worry they have let down families reliant on financial support and suffer when absent of contact with their loved ones.
When seafarers come from communities and villages who support them through their exams and club together to help them into a maritime career, the expectation is for payment in kind. It’s a lot of pressure on one person. They care deeply about sending monies to aid the livelihoods of others they feel they ‘owe’ for the opportunity to have a career.
Abandonment by year
2022 saw the highest number of abandonment reports received by the IMO. These 103 cases are in part due to the global pandemic, as ship owners and managers struggled financially with blocked supply chains. We saw a similar upward trend in 2009, immediately after the global financial crash, due to deep financial problems in the maritime markets when vessel and freight prices plummeted.
In 2022, abandonment rates remained as high as in 2021. Despite the resumption of access to global ports and the smoother movement of cargo, we know seafarers are reporting more cases. As access to mobile technology on vessels improves, seafarers are empowered to come forward and report in a timely way.
Increasing reports since 2017 can be partly due to the 2017 MLC convention, as seafarers abandoned and unpaid for two months can claim their wages via mandatory insurance. On the Internet and in social media, public support for seafarers has increased.
3 aspects of seafarer abandonment
The composition of the world's seafarers includes many from island states, and countries at an economic disadvantage, or lax in human rights. We can see many seafarers hailing from these countries in the abandonment lists. The most people abandoned by nationality are from India, with 1,491 seafarers cut adrift. Ukraine and the Russian Federation have a high number of abandonments due to the current conflict.
The types of vessels abandoned vary widely. General cargo ships (31.2%), bulk carriers (8.2%) and chemical products / tankers (7.2%) top this list of 60 vessel descriptions. What is concerning, is that some of these vessels are abandoned twice, and others are unidentifiable, even though we know they exist, as no International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number has been listed.
We see a trend towards vessels aged between 26 and 30 years, making up 16.7% of the total 703 abandoned vessels. With 35 vessels abandoned in their first five years of sailing, we observe that even though vessels might be new, it doesn’t mean charterers can assume that the conditions on board are acceptable.
RightShip stands firm on abandonment
We see increasing pressure building around abandonment issues with new international laws and organisations campaigning to set high standards for seafarers, particularly around abandonment issues.
We identify vessels guilty of abandonment linked to a company in the RightShip Platform. We cannot and will not recommend them for voyages and we mark them as unacceptable during the vetting process. Operators with little regard for the welfare and human rights of their crew must not be allowed to continue. We vet vessels 40,000 times a year and in that process make sure that no party involved is associated with an abandonment of seafarers. To truly understand and value a human’s life, we sadly need to bring the commercial drivers to the conversation.
As of early 2023, RightShip received Crew Welfare Self Assessments from 226 ship managers covering over 6,150 vessels. This is a great first step in measuring, verifying and mapping out a path to improvement. But we know we can do more and so can the more than 1,000 ship management companies that have not declared their hand by refraining from completing the Crew Welfare Self-Assessment.
The effect on your bottom line if you don’t choose a good ship manager could be catastrophic financially. In 2023, if you don't engage with best practices for crew welfare, you could fall foul of regulators who we see clamping down on all points in the supply chain.