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The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) describes “abandonment” as when an owner cuts ties with the ship, or otherwise fails to pay a crew’s salary or get them home. It starts with a ship pulling into a port and not being allowed to leave as a result of being detained or impounded for a variety of reasons which could include expired safety equipment and classification certificates or inability to pay port fees and fines. The crew is told to stay put and await orders. If these issues cannot be resolved or the owner/operator runs into financial problems, they abandon ship, at which point, the crew, especially the captain, is often made legal guardian of the vessel. This leaves the crew without pay, means of sustenance, and limited ability to be repatriated back to their home countries as their passports are either held by the port authorities or the former owners of the ship.


In most situations, these cases get resolved in 2-3 months however, they have dragged on as much as 18 months and most recently 4 years. Much of this has come to light as a result of the global pandemic. Since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was founded in 2004, about 20-30 cases were reported each year, however, in 2020, there were 76 cases recorded and as of May 2021, there have been another 26.


There is nothing to do on an abandoned ship but wait and be confined within your floating prison. Being idle makes time go by very slowly when you are on a ship with no electricity and your only way of survival is help from local welfare authorities who provide basic supplies and necessities. The well being of seafarers is not often talked about but when you are exposed to the experiences of those who have felt in the literal term, “the captain goes down with the ship”, you can only hope and sympathize that the same fate does not happen to others, one being the crew of the Ever Given who are held by the Suez Canal Authority until they pay to cover the costs for the salvage operation, cost of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the week of the blockade.