Crew Repatriation

The ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) requires shipowners to demonstrate that they have financial security in place to ensure that repatriation will occur in almost every circumstance, including bankruptcy. Without such evidence, the shipowner will not be issued with a Maritime Labour Certificate and will therefore be unable to trade.

In normal circumstances, it is always the responsibility of the shipping company to ensure that the seafarers it employs are repatriated to their home countries. In the rare and unfortunate event that normal arrangements fail, such as when a shipping company goes bankrupt, the flag state has an obligation to repatriate the crew to their countries of residence and at no cost to the seafarer. 

Prior to the entry into force of the ILO MLC, many flag states were reluctant to accept this responsibility. But the MLC now makes it easier for the costs to be recovered from shipping companies which must have financial guarantees in place via insurance companies (normally P&I Clubs) to ensure that seafarers repatriation costs will always be met, regardless of the seafarers’ nationality, even in the event that a company is insolvent. 

But protecting seafarers from being stranded, and the implementation of an international mechanism to ensure the payment of accrued entitlements, are actually two separate issues. This distinction might seem academic to seafarers. However, in many cases of reported abandonment the flag state has in fact made arrangements to repatriate stranded crews who have decided to stay with their ship until they are sure that any unpaid wages will be recovered.

The issues are complex because the provision of financial security for potentially unpaid wages is a liability which is hard to quantify and thus complicated to insure. That is why the issue was not fully resolved by the ILO Diplomatic Conference which adopted the MLC ten years ago. But the occasions when crews decide to stay with their ships, despite an offer of repatriation, should now reduce dramatically following an important amendment to the MLC which entered into force in January 2017, with the full support of maritime employers represented by ICS. This requires shipping companies, wishing to be issued with a Maritime Labour Certificate, to demonstrate that they have the necessary financial security arrangements in place to address unpaid wages in the event of bankruptcy. 

Meanwhile, whenever cases of possible crew abandonment are reported, ICS and ITF now have a mechanism in place, in conjunction with ILO and IMO, to ensure that, in liaison with the vessel’s flag state, crews are repatriated as quickly as possible.


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