MLC – crew abandonment from a liability perspective

By Heidi Høvik Hansen, Claims Executive, Gard

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries. The MLC also provides protection for seafarers in the event they are abandoned by a shipowner. A seafarer is considered abandoned when the employer 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. In most cases abandonment occurs when a shipowner becomes insolvent and ceases paying wages and in extreme cases may completely “walk away” from the ship and its responsibility for those on board.

Should a shipowner abandon its crew on a ship insured with a P&I club, that club has a direct financial responsibility to step in.

The number of cases of abandoned vessels and crew is growing, not least due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and in some instances, crew can be left on board for months or even years without support. While the abandonment provisions of the MLC were introduced to prevent seafarers being stranded in port for long periods, this is not always the case in practice. Gard has handled challenging cases where local authorities would not allow vessels to be left unmanned, forcing the remaining crew to stay on board until they could be replaced. This is stressful and inhumane for the crew and their families. This problem should be fixed at source rather than just dealing with the consequences, and this issue is being addressed within the industry, including by IUMI’s support of the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change.