SeafarerHelp: Seafarers Held in Warzone

January 18, 2016
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SeafarerHelp is a free and confidential service provided by ISWAN. Seafarers or their families finding themselves in a difficult situation and in need of support and assistance can contact SeafarerHelp 24/7, 365 days of the year. The team can speak languages including Russian, Georgian, Tagalog, Hindi, Arabic, Polish and Urdu. Whether seafarers are seeking advice about unpaid wages, poor working or living conditions, or simply want someone to talk to, SeafarerHelp is there to listen. The team deals with a range of cases from all over the world. Here is one example:

SeafarerHelp was contacted by a seafarer's wife involving the arrest of an oil tanker in Yemen. Her husband had been working on the oil tanker, which had been arrested due to debts the company had incurred. The caller was concerned that her husband's wages had not been paid, and described the lack of water on board. She was also concerned that the crew were exposed to explosions on the shores of Yemen, a war zone. She explained that two armed guards had been placed on the ship, and the medical needs of the seafarers were purportedly not being provided for. The crew had been held in the port waters for four months.

The SeafarerHelp team member advised the seafarer's wife to contact the ITF inspector in her homeland, as there was no inspector in Yemen. The shipping company informed the ITF that a special representative would be sent to Yemen to negotiate with the local oil company responsible for the arrest of the vessel. The inspector underlined that the seafarers would then have to sail to a neighbouring country to be repatriated as there was no functioning airport in Yemen.

At this stage, the seafarer admitted he had suffered from severe pains in his hand but had continued to work in order to support his family, however the pains had increased and he had passed out twice. The company had been informed but had urged him to continue working. He decided to go on hunger strike as a threat so he could receive medical treatment as well as his wages, but the company purportedly threatened him with sending him to a psychiatric unit. Subsequently, the seafarer gave up his strike.

In the meantime, the ship had ceased to be under its original flag state and this was causing issues. The company needed an amicable settlement with the local oil company and a decision regarding their flag state before the ship could be moved on. The ITF in various locations such as Spain became involved with urging the company to pay the seafarers' wages.

At this stage, the seafarer's wife admitted that her child was suffering from an illness for which she needed expensive treatment that she could no longer afford. The SeafarerHelp officer advised her to apply for the Seafarers' Emergency Fund (SEF) in order to pay for the medical fees.

SeafarerHelp was then contacted by the wife of another seafarer on board, who declared that her husband needed medical treatment which was not available on board. She was concerned for his health and described how the crew were using the condensation from the air conditioning units as a source of water for washing. She also said that there were tensions between the different nations on board. Her husband consequently contacted the team stating he was considering escaping the ship via rescue boat, as the fuel on board was running out and he felt he could not stand the heat without working air conditioning. He declared that the Port Authorities would not cooperate until the debt was paid off, and that Ramadan would delay the official repatriation papers coming through, therefore he wanted to find his own means of getting home. The SeafarerHelp team member urged him strongly not to risk his safety, and to wait for the official papers. He accepted this advice.

Lastly, the first seafarer's wife contacted SeafarerHelp when the flag was taken under the control of a new state. She wrote to the Flag State Authorities who had stated that the wages would be paid. Throughout this case, the seafarer's wife had been under considerable distress, and regularly contacted SeafarerHelp for reassurance and comfort; the team were able to offer her advice on multiple occasions in her native language. In the end, she found a children's hospital where her child could be treated and she was granted the SEF funds to pay for the medical treatment.

This case is merely one example of how SeafarerHelp offers advice, assistance and comfort in times of need. If you are interested in learning more about SeafarerHelp and their work, you can find more information here.

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