A crewing agent should never charge a seafarer for finding work at sea. Many seafarers desperate to secure a job find themselves in precarious or even dangerous situations when they have joined a vessel through a fraudulent or disreputable agent. ISWAN is currently supporting Manoj*, a seafarer from India, who suffered a serious accident on board over three years ago and is still waiting to receive compensation, along with months’ worth of unpaid wages.
Manoj had signed up with an agent after paying them more than 2.5 lakh Indian Rupees (over US$3,000) for what he was told were service charges. He had not done any background research on the company or agent, but he was just overjoyed to start his new job.
Manoj joined the ship and began sailing, but his joy was short-lived when the company delayed paying the crew wages. The crew repeatedly contacted the agent and the company but they did not receive any of the wages they were owed.
Several months into the voyage, disaster struck. While the ship was berthed in an Iranian port, a lack of coordination as the cargo was being unloaded caused the vessel to capsize. The crew lost all their documents and personal belongings when the vessel sank and two crew members were injured, including Manoj, who suffered serious foot injuries. Manoj was transferred to a local hospital and due to the severity of his injuries, the doctors made the difficult decision to amputate his leg. Manoj was declared 50% disabled at a young age, leaving him permanently unfit to sail again.
More than three years have passed since the accident and Manoj and his fellow crew members are still waiting to be paid their wages, despite being told the P&I club will pay them. Manoj is entitled to compensation under the terms of his contract, but all he hears is that the company and P&I club are not responding to the agent’s requests. Manoj has been left to deal with his medical bills since his return and is struggling to make ends meet as the sole earner of his family. The crew did not know who to contact after the accident or where to seek support.
When ISWAN became aware of the crew’s case, ISWAN’s team in India reported it to the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) and contacted the P&I club to follow up on the crew’s unpaid wages. ISWAN applied to the DGS’s Invalidity Benefit Scheme on Manoj’s behalf for compensation and is currently awaiting approval of financial assistance. Manoj was also referred to the Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP) to report his accident.
Despite paying hefty service fees to the crewing agent, Manoj has suffered a terrible ordeal as a result of his placement. Accidents can happen anywhere, but reputable companies will ensure a safe working environment for their crew and have appropriate policies and compensation in place in the event of an accident. Seafaring is a profession with many risks and hazards, making it even more important for seafarers to sign up with reputable agents.
If you are a seafarer, you should only seek work through government-registered crewing agencies. Make sure you have signed a written employment contract before joining a ship and you understand all the terms first and have checked that no important information (such as details of wages) is missing. Visit the SeafarerHelp website for more information about seeking employment and contracts.
If you need help or support, you can contact ISWAN’s free, confidential, 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp – all contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org.
*This seafarer’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.