In a disheartening revelation, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has unveiled alarming statistics regarding the abandonment of vessels in 2023. The figures reflect a worrying increase compared to the previous year, signifying an unsettling trend that demands urgent attention from the global maritime community.
A total of 132 abandonments were reported in 2023, marking a significant uptick of 10.92% from the figures recorded in 2022. The ITF, responsible for the overwhelming majority of these reports, shed light on the distressing reality faced by seafarers worldwide.
Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), vessels are considered abandoned when shipowners fail to cover the cost of a seafarer’s repatriation, neglect necessary maintenance and support, or unilaterally sever ties with them, including the non-payment of contractual wages for at least two months.
Key findings from the ITF’s report include: Owed wages from the 129 ITF-reported cases amounting to over $12.1 million. 1,676 seafarers have reached out to ITF from abandoned vessels. Indian seafarers bear the brunt, with over 400 reported cases of abandonment.
“The ongoing rise in the number of seafarer abandonments is unacceptable. Seafarers and their families pay the ultimate price for the greed and non-compliance of shipowners, enduring the inhuman consequences of a system that compromises their well-being, dignity, and basic human rights,” Steve Trowsdale, ITF Inspectorate Coordinator, said
As the maritime industry engages in intense debates around decarbonization, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance), and alternative fuels, a critical aspect often overlooked is the human element—the seafarers steering the ships. The focus on technological advancements and environmental sustainability must not eclipse the well-being and rights of those who navigate the high seas.
As the industry strives for carbon neutrality and sustainable practices, it must recognize and appreciate the invaluable contribution of seafarers. Adequate compensation, proper training on new technologies, and fostering an environment where their hard work is valued are essential steps toward ensuring a sustainable, socially responsible, and truly ESG-compliant maritime sector.
Seafarers are the heart of the transition the sector is embarking upon, and it is essential to recognize that technological advancements alone cannot sustain the industry. All the ammonia and hydrogen-powered engines in the world cannot exist in a vacuum when there is no one to operate them.
On the other hand, there is a pressing demand for top-tier talent to drive the transition and join the seafarer ranks. However, the very practices shaping this transformation are impacting the attractiveness of the seafaring profession.
The allure of cutting-edge technologies loses its sheen when overshadowed by reports of seafarers being treated as ‘modern-day slaves.’ The narrative around the sector’s evolution must transcend the mechanical to embrace the human element.