ITF Report on Challenges Faced by Black Sea Seafarers

For some time concern has been growing about the frequency of serious accidents and the repeated appeals from seafarers in difficulty on vessels trading in the Black Sea area. Black sea trade is characterized by older, smaller ships, often trading beyond their expected economic life in circumstances that can undermine safe and secure employment practices. Since the entry into force date (20 August 2013) of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) is getting nearer, we would like to highlight a report that has been prepared from seafarers’ unions from the Black Sea area affiliated to the International Workers’ Federation (ITF).

2013.08.13 - ITF Report on Challenges Faced by Black Sea Seafarers Figure 1

The report was published in the summer of 2012 and its intention was to unveil the extremes of substandard operations and concerns over the limitations of current regulation in the region.

In the Black Sea area there are approximately 2,400 active vessels ranging from 2,000 DWT to 12,000 DWT with a total capacity of 11.4 million DWT.

The most common types of vessels operating in the area are:

  • Cargo Ships
  • Baulk Carriers
  • Cement Carriers
  • River-Sea Ships
  • Multipurpose Vessels

The companies mainly employ seafarers from the following countries:

  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Turkey
  • Georgia
  • Azerbaijan

The predominant flags in the region are:

  • Turkey
  • Russia
  • Georgia
  • Malta
  • Panama
  • St. Vincent & Grenadines
  • Belize
  • Moldova
  • Slovenia
  • Cambodia

The most common cargoes that are being transported in the area are:

  • Scrap Metal
  • Steels
  • Pig Iron
  • Coal
  • Grains
  • Cement
  • Fertilizer

With margins tight, shipowners must ensure that their vessels are operational for a significant proportion of days in a month to avoid trading in deficit. If demand drops, the economics of the business quickly cease to be viable and seafarers and creditors go unpaid. For example the profit of 2 coal shipments of 10 days voyage each and 10 day lay-up over a month ranges from 3,200 USD (2,000-4,000 DWT) to 28,000 USD (8,000-12,000 DWT). Respectively, the crew cost ranges from 20,000 USD to 35,000 USD.

In respect of safety, collision, groundings, explosion and fire as well as damage caused by weather conditions have led to a significant number of deaths, injuries and missing crewmembers. More specifically for a period between January 2010 to May 2012, 25 seafarers have been recorded dead or missing due to accident and 4 have suffered injuries. A list of ship accidents that occured in the area for the period under review is contained within the ITF report “Black Sea of Shame”.

2013.08.13 - ITF Report on Challenges Faced by Black Sea Seafarers Figure 2

The most frequently encountered problems in the Black Sea that have been handled by ITF inspectors include

  1. Owed wages – 41.98 %.
  2. Breach of contract – 27.16 %.
  3. Non compliance with international standards – 26.61 %.
  4. Medical cases – 2.88 %.
  5. Abandonment – 0.82 %.
  6. Ship’s wreck – 0.55%.

A sample of case studies that the ITF affiliates and inspectors have dealt with includes

  • No compensation to the families of seafarers that have died during an accident. The vessels usually do not have a P&I cover.
  • Repeated cases of unpaid cases. In some cases companies hired private security to forcibly throw off the unpaid crew from the vessel in order to replace it with new crew. In other case the companies pay with a delay of 2 to 3 months.
  • Seafarers after not being paid form months are being abandoned onboard the vessel and repatriation due to bureaucracy, as well as other issues that may arise, can take months.

Some other issues that should be mentioned regarding the conditions seafarers have to face in the Black Sea is that when accidents do occur there is a recurrent theme of a lack of P&I cover. This combined with the ownership structures limited to single vessels registered under brass plate companies in such jurisdictions as the Cayman Islands, Marshall Islands, St. Vinvent & the Grenadines and St. Kitts & Nevis, results in the impossible of pursuing compensation for loss of life. Moreover, according to ITF, there is strong evidence to suggest that crewing agents in the region make extensive use of blacklisting to intimidate crew and discourage them to exercise their rights.

The sever impact of substandard industry on seafarers and their families cannot be underestimated. The intentional non-payment of wages amounts to a situation of bonded labour  and should be unthinkable in the 21st century. Such working conditions pose dangers to the physical and mental well being of the seafarers.

A lot of hope is put into the MLC 2006 that such situations will either be eliminated or minimized to a great extent.

The complete report of the ITF containing additional graphs and information can be found in the following link:

ITF Report: Black Sea of Shame

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