More than 50 seafarers remain trapped aboard vessels once owned by a
Turkish billionaire whose jail and bankruptcy have left his employees without
food, fuel and freedom for 10 months. But Turkey can save them.
The humanitarian effort to feed, repatriate and fight for the
seafarers’ outstanding wages has been spearheaded by the International
Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its inspectors.
Turks have denied freedom for months, seafarers starved in darkness
In Istanbul, six ships owned by Palmali were abandoned at the port as
the company went broke. Crews there were trapped on vessels for more than nine
months as Turkish authorities refused to allow them to leave.
“It is grim,” said Steve Trowsdale, ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator
whose team have been working tirelessly to get the seafarers home. “These
people are absolutely desperate. They have been low on food and water. Some
ships had so little fuel that they had to live in blackout with no lighting.”
Italy’s more humanitarian approach
In contrast to refusals by Turkish authorities to support crews in
their harbours with food, fuel and repatriation; seafarers have been treated
considerably better on Palmali ships stranded in Italian ports.
For example, the Gobustan (IMO 9575321) was abandoned in Ravenna when
Palmali collapsed. From July 2020 the crew were stranded for four months.
The ITF negotiated with the port, the insurers and other parties, and
the crew of 13 were able to travel home at the end of September. The Gobustan’s
crew gave their proxies to ITF lawyers to fight for unpaid salaries from the
eventual sale of the ship. While the battle for wages continues, the ITF
expects the seafarers to receive at least a share of their outstanding wages in
due course, said Trowsdale.
“In the meantime, they have been home and able to get on with their
lives. We want that for all the seafarers affected by Palmali’s collapse from
Day One. They are entitled to their freedom,” he said.
Why is this happening? The ‘dark web’ of
global shipping where no one is responsible for crew
ITF President Paddy Crumlin describes the global shipping industry as
similar to the ‘dark web’ of the internet. Players are anonymous.
Accountability is low. Who is responsible for crew is more often than not
The frustrating reality of this ‘dark web’ is laid bare when shipping
companies go broke and seafarers are left with nothing.
At the heart of the problem is the flags
of convenience system.
Trowsdale said if we got rid of flags of convenience — something ITF
has advocated for many years — then a country’s fleet would be proportionate to
its trading size and so it could bear the cost of proper regulation. Checks
could be made on the quality of insurance that ship owners buy, for example, he
“That would mean speedy
payouts if ships are abandoned, ensuring seafarers can get paid and they can
get home quickly. Palmali has shown that seafarers are being left to languish
with neither their freedom nor their wages.”