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Cautious optimism as UAE bucks abandonment trend

25 April 2023
Abandonment can have devastating consequences on seafarers. Credit: International Maritime Organization

As recently as December 2022, the UAE was listed as the country with the highest incidence of abandonment in the world – ICS recorded 29 such cases during the course of the year. Fast forward less than four months and welfare groups have noted, despite increasing prevalence worldwide, a significant drop in the number of UAE cases, with just one case reported in the first quarter of 2023.

Abandonments rose dramatically during the global pandemic as a result of the economic dislocation caused by widespread port closures. Despite the gradual resumption of international trade since the latter part of 2021, wider economic and geo-political instability combined to make 2022 the worst year on record for abandonment cases reported to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), with 103 vessels abandoned globally, affecting 1,682 seafarers. 

Talking to Leadership Insights, Ben Bailey, Director of Programme at The Mission to Seafarers explained how the UAE may have bucked the global trend. While crediting the UAE government for passing legislation in 2021 to deter abandonment, he questioned if market conditions had also contributed to the reduction, “many of the ships we have dealt with in the past have been in the offshore energy sector. With energy being in such high demand, I wonder if it’s also to do with the fact that these vessels are needed more than ever.” He added that “certainly, in the past we have seen a rise in cases when prices have dropped.”

That said, the UAE’s success in reducing the incidence of abandonment demonstrates the impact that national legislation and robust enforcement mechanisms can achieve in a limited timeframe. However, whilst cautiously optimistic about the situation in the UAE, Bailey remains concerned that cases may “have gone elsewhere, perhaps to countries where there is absolutely no welfare provision”. Explaining what was required to end the scourge, he added that  “ultimately, abandonment will only stop when every port state has ratified the MLC and has robust inspection regimes.”

Abandonment can have devastating consequences on seafarers, with some left without basic necessities, support, and shore access for protracted periods becoming wholly reliant on charities for survival. Citing the UAE as an example, abandonment at sea can be tackled but success requires political will at the national level. In addition, States should commit to implementing the 2022 ILO-IMO guidelines and make a concerted effort to ratify existing international regulations in order to safeguard the rights of seafarers.   

Interested parties can pre-order the ICS publication Guidelines on the Application of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, Fourth Edition  which addresses the wide range of MLC provisions including the 2022 updates entering into force in December 2024.