ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp is a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A seafarer’s first time working on a ship can be daunting and SeafarerHelp is here to provide support and a listening ear. When six new seafarers from the Philippines found themselves with serious problems on their first voyage, they turned to SeafarerHelp for assistance.
In October 2017, a Filipino seafarer contacted SeafarerHelp on Facebook from an anchorage in Malaysia. Several months ago, he and five other first-time seafarers had signed a contract to join a general cargo ship. He said that the application process with the manning agent had seemed rushed. The seafarers were made to pay a placement fee and they were not given enough time to fully understand the terms of their contract.
After leaving the Philippines, the seafarers were dropped off on a completely different vessel, a long-line fishing vessel. Despite their concerns, they feared the consequences of complaining so decided to stay and work on board. However, they soon discovered that there were not enough provisions and were forced to drink from a rusty container, causing some of them to fall ill. Their passports were also confiscated by the coastguard because the vessel allegedly came to port without the appropriate permits.
The shipowner was pressuring them to sail for Thailand, even without their confiscated travel documents. When they refused, the master allegedly tried to sail anyway when they were asleep, but the crew managed to stop him.
On many occasions, the seafarers said they wanted to abandon or jump off the ship out of desperation. They had suffered for months in poor living and working conditions. Their families also urgently needed assistance, having received only part of the wages that the seafarers were owed with considerable fee deductions.
The SeafarerHelp team emotionally supported the seafarers throughout their ordeal. The team sought the Philippine Consulate’s assistance in rescuing the seafarers and retrieving their passports from the coastguard. SeafarerHelp worked closely with the International Transport Workers’ Federation and government representatives in the seafarers’ home country to get them home as soon as possible.
Finally, after more than a month of continued collaboration between SeafarerHelp and the other parties involved, the shipowner paid the seafarers’ outstanding salaries and arranged for their immediate repatriation. Shortly before Christmas, the crew arrived in the Philippines. Through SeafarerHelp’s requests, the Philippine government provided transportation to collect the seafarers from the airport and they were given a place to stay by a local seafarers’ centre before they took their onward flights home.
At the time of writing, two of the seafarers were in Manila, Philippines, undergoing training paid for by the OWWA while seeking employment. Another was in Taiwan working in a factory. Two crew members also decided to pursue their formal complaint against the local manning agency.
Are you a first-time seafarer or looking for a new contract at sea? Make sure you use a government-registered crewing agency to seek work. You can find guidance on seeking employment on the SeafarerHelp website. The ITF Seafarers’ Trust website also has information on crewing agents, recruitment scams and what to do before you board.
Do you have a concern about your contract? You can find information on contractual issues on the SeafarerHelp website. You can also contact SeafarerHelp at any time – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org. Make a note of our details or save them on your phone in case you ever need our help or support.