Pretoria: 24 January 2022
A group of 18 seafarers grappling with apparent abandonment on three vessels docked in Durban have been sparred at least a month of hunger and starvation, thanks to the intervention of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) acting jointly with two non-governmental organisations, Meals on Wheels Community Services SA and Mission to Seafarers this past week.
According to the organisations in a joint statement on Monday, the crews are manning three vessels reportedly abandoned by their owners – two of these vessels stranded for between two (2) and five (5) years ago – as a result of which the 18 seafarers are battling daily for necessities but especially food.
SAMSA confirmed separately that it has and continues to be constantly involved in efforts to resolve issues revolving around the fate of the vessels since about five years ago but would not divulge details due to confidentiality related reasons among those parties involved.
In the joint statement, the parties said: “The vessels PSD2 and Fairy Tale have been at the port of Durban for between five (5) and two (2) years respectively while the PSD104 arrived at the port earlier this month. The vessels are currently manned by 18 seafarers collectively, one (1) Iranian, six (6) Bangladeshi and 11 Indians.
“The 18 seafarers have not been paid salaries for several months and were running out of food in a matter of hours which prompted Reverend Tembe from the Mission to Seafarers to make a desperate call to SAMSA for assistance.
“SAMSA in turn made a call to the Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa who, without hesitation, made food parcels available to the seafarers.
“The food parcels comprising various nutritious foods were delivered to the 18 seafarers on 18 January 2022 by a team from Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa led by its National Programmes Director Mr Gershon Naidoo. It is estimated that the food supplies will last the seafarers for up to four (4) weeks,” said the entities in the statement.
According to SAMSA, whose legislated mandate expressly includes the active protection of life and property at sea, vessels and crew abandonments are a general phenomenon.
Citing the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), SAMSA said abandonment of ships and crew at sea was characterised by a situation where “a shipowner fails to fulfil certain fundamental obligations to the seafarer relating to timely repatriation and payment of outstanding remuneration and to the provision of necessities of life, inter alia, adequate food, accommodation, and medical care.
“Abandonment will have occurred when the master of the ship has been left without any financial means in respect of ship operation.”
SAMSA further quoted the IMO as saying that as many as 438 abandoned ships involving 5,767 seafarers were recorded globally between 2004 – 2020 and that estimates indicated that “there are many other cases worldwide which go unreported.”
In fact, the IMO notes that: “There has been a dramatic rise in cases over the past three years following the entry into force on 18 January 2017 of the 2014 amendments to MLC (Maritime Labour Convention) 2006 concerning financial security in cases of abandonment.”
In addition to various other instruments and activities to manage cases of ships and crew abandonments, the IMO says it works closely with organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to maintain a database of incidents, and encourages especially its more than 150 Member States globally to report such cases to the international organisation on occurrence.
“A Member State or an organization accredited to ILO or IMO is entitled to report an abandonment incident. The following stakeholders are consequently entitled to report to the database:
- Flag States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State the flag of which the abandoned vessel is flying has the primary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the shipowner fails to make arrangements for, or to meet the cost of, repatriation.
- Port States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State in the port of which the abandoned vessel is situated has a secondary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher.
- Labour-supplying States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The country of nationality of the abandoned seafarer or fisher also has a responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the flag or port States fail to do so.
- NGOs with consultative or observer status in IMO or ILO.
The procedure to be followed in reporting cases of ships and crew abandonment is outlined on the IMO’s website, including the contacts details applicable.
Meanwhile, in Pretoria on Monday, SAMSA, Meals on Wheels Community SA and Mission for Seafarers committed to continue working jointly in the meantime in efforts to alleviate the plight of abandoned crews.
According to SAMSA; “The Mission to Seafarers through their Durban Port Chaplain, Reverend Thami Tembe, has been working alongside SAMSA to provide relief to the distressed seafarers. Reverend Tembe who has become like a father to these seafarers have been providing them with emotional support and spiritual counselling and organising food supplies.”
Meals on Wheels Community Services SA, well known for helping those who are poverty-stricken within the borders of South Africa with nutritious meals and food security, said its involvement in the Durban situation was its first venture into the maritime space “and we hope that there will be many more opportunities to partner with SAMSA and The Mission to Seafarers,” said Mr Naidoo.
Mr Naidoo added that members of the public keen to land a hand were welcome to do so. “Should (anyone) wish to know more or like to get involved with us, (they may) visit our website https://mealsonwheels.org.za/ , email us at email@example.com or check out “Meals on Wheels Community Services” Social Media pages.