Vessel abandonment incidents were up more almost 11% in 2023 according to data from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF). 

The ITWF said there were 132 reported incidents in 2023, up 13 on 2022 figures, leading to the ITWF retrieving more than $12.1m in owed wages on behalf of seafarers. 

Vessel and seafarer abandonments are defined by the Maritime Labour Convention (2006) as incidents where a shipowner fails to cover the cost of a seafarer’s repatriation, leaves them without necessary maintenance and support, unilaterally severs ties with them, or fails to pay their wages for at least two months. 

Steve Trowsdale, ITWF inspectorate coordinator, said: “The ongoing rise in the number of seafarer abandonments is unacceptable. It is a consequence of an industry where the seafarer can be a throw-away commodity. 

“Seafarers and their families pay the ultimate price for the greed and non-compliance of ship owners, enduring the inhuman consequences of a system that compromises their well-being, dignity and basic human rights.” 

While Indian seafarers suffered the most from abandonment, making up more than 400 of the 1,676 seafarers that contacted the ITWF in 2023, Panama-flagged vessels had the highest number of abandonments with 23. 

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Other flag states to experience a high level of abandonments included Palau, 12, Cameroon, 11, St. Kitts and Nevis, 8, and Comoros, 6, with eight vessels with an unknown flag state included in the ITWF’s count. 

The federation’s data and comments on the safety and importance of seafarers, which Trowsdale described as sometimes being treated as “some sort of modern-day slaves” comes at the same time as the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) warning that seafarer safety must be “paramount” in the Red Sea amid growing conflict in the region. 

New Secretary General Arsenio Dominguez, who was installed during the IMO’s 33rd Assembly in December, said: “Seafarers are innocent victims in the volatile Red Sea situation.”