Imagine travelling to a foreign country and joining a vessel as a member of its crew, only to find that the working and living conditions are far from what they should be. Not only that, but you are not being paid the wages owed to you. What would you do?
Six Nigerian seafarers travelled to South America to join a cargo vessel which had recently been acquired by a new owner. The ship was to be brought back to Nigeria.
The crew did not have contracts of employment, and when they got on board they realised the vessel was in poor shape. As their voyage got underway, things got worse – the food was rationed and the crew were not given the personal protective equipment they needed. Most worryingly, even though they were working, they were not being paid.
Although the crew complained to the shipowner, the situation on board did not improve. When one of the seafarers became very ill two months into the voyage, the crew appealed to the owner to send them home. At the beginning of their fifth month of employment, the six seafarers were finally repatriated but they had still not received their wages, so they contacted ISWAN in Nigeria to ask for help. ISWAN provides welfare services to seafarers and their families in Nigeria or calling at Nigerian ports in partnership with the National Seafarers Welfare Board (NSWB).
‘The seafarers were sad and shaken about the whole incident,’ said ISWAN’s social worker in Nigeria, Afusat Eke. ‘They felt that for them to have left their families and home, the shipping company would meet the financial obligations and welfare on board.’
Afusat provided emotional support and a listening ear for the traumatised crew. She also recommended that they reported their case to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). ISWAN has a network of contacts who can help in cases like this so Afusat contacted the local Port Welfare Committee for their support, and she kept the seafarers updated while she followed up with the shipping company about the unpaid wages.
Finally, two months after they returned to Nigeria, the six seafarers were paid their owed wages in full. One of the seafarers called Afusat to express the crew’s gratitude for all the help and support they had received throughout their ordeal, saying: ‘Thank you ISWAN and NSWB so much for all you do for seafarers.’
Afusat said: ‘We are glad that these seafarers were finally paid what they were owed. If any seafarers find themselves in a similar situation, they can access help and support from ISWAN via our free, 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp. It is also important to make sure that you always sign a contract of employment before you join any vessel to ensure your rights are protected. ‘
If you are a seafarer or family member of a seafarer, you can contact our free, confidential, 24-hour helpline, SeafarerHelp, at any time for assistance or support. All the helpline contact details along with useful guidance and information can be found at www.seafarerhelp.org.