Long way home: How ITF and MTWTU helped the crew of the MIRA ship

On April 14, 2023, the vessel MIRA collided with the cargo ship COSMINA 1, which was anchored outside the port of Reni, Ukraine. MIRA did not sustain significant damage, and after the incident, it was safely anchored in Reni.

Due to this accident, the vessel was arrested by the Odessa Commercial Court. The crew members found themselves hostages of the situation, as the main office of the ship-owning company is located in Palestine (Gaza Strip), and due to the military actions between Palestine and Israel, it lost the ability to conduct any financial transactions. Consequently, the crew members could not receive their salaries, and worse still, at that time, the vessel had limited fuel, provisions, and drinking water, with the likelihood of additional supplies being absolutely uncertain. The combination of these factors unequivocally indicated the impossibility of further safe stay of the crew members on board.

In the middle of 2023, MTWTU received a request from the crew members of the MIRA vessel under the flag of the Comoros Islands, informing about gross violations of the rights of seafarers working on the vessel at that time. Before the crew contacted the ITF, the vessel received two court decisions on arrest due to the collision.

The crew informed ITF Inspector in Ukraine, Natalia Yefimenko, about the delay in salary payments for the period from February to May 2023, particularly the non-payment of the captain's salary since November 2022. Based on the provided data, Natalia Yefimenko found that the company owed the crew $98,257.39 for the period from the crew members' arrival on board the vessel until May 31, 2013, which constituted a gross violation of the terms of seafarers' employment contracts and international legislation. Additionally, at the time of the complaint, there were 5 crew members on board whose contract terms had expired, and they were entitled to replacement, repatriation, and final settlement at the company's expense. The crew members also reported that the shipowner failed to timely organize the delivery of provisions, drinking and technical water, as well as other essential items (including sanitary-hygienic means) to the vessel.

The ITF Inspector sent a letter to the company urging them to promptly deliver the necessary supplies of provisions and water, settle the debt to the crew members as soon as possible, and take all necessary measures to organize replacement, repatriation, and final settlement of the crew members whose contract terms had expired.

The delay in payment of the crew's wages for 2 months allows qualifying the situation as a case of abandonment of the ship and filing a report to the International Labour Organization, opening the possibility of involving government authorities to ensure compliance with national and international standards for the protection of seafarers' rights to receive monthly wages in full accordance with the employment contracts.

Initially, the company representative, namely the DPA (Designated Person Ashore), informed the Union and the crew that the company was doing everything possible to pay off the wage arrears and organize the repatriation of the crew members whose contracts had expired.

In early July 2023, provisions were supplied to the vessel. Also, during July, two Egyptian seafarers were signed off and transferred to other vessels bound for Turkey and Egypt.

According to the company's information, the owner planned to sell the vessel and already had a potential buyer. Such a development would solve the problem, as the company would then be able to settle all debts to the crew at a minimum. However, this did not happen. Interestingly, the P&I Club refused to handle this matter and provided no comments.

By mid-August, food supplies began to run out, and the funds sent to the ship manager for the next provision delivery, according to the shipowner, were held up by the correspondent bank. At that point, the company was urgently requested to send funds to the ship agent via Western Union and instruct him to negotiate with port authorities to move the vessel closer to the port, primarily to facilitate the delivery of food for the crew on board. This issue, among others, was discussed with the PRMTU, and it was decided that if the shipowner company could not organize the provision delivery, the Union would consider options to help the crew.

In October 2023, Natalia Yefimenko contacted the main office of the ITF in London to discuss issues related to the crew of the MIRA vessel. At that time, it was already clear that it would be unlikely to compel the Palestinian company to allocate any funds for further provisioning and fueling of the vessel, and the problem was approaching a critical state as the cold season approached. An agent was instructed to check whether it was possible to arrange the sign-off of all crew members, including one Ukrainian and eleven Egyptians, and leave the vessel unmanned. At the same time, the agent was asked to clarify how the crew of the vessel could be repatriated.

The first option was to transfer everyone to the DRAGON vessel, which was supposed to depart for Turkey by the end of October, but the port state refused to carry out the operation, so the ITF had to discuss and search for another solution. The ITF Inspector in Ukraine was in constant communication with the captain of the MIRA vessel, the Egyptian embassy, and the ship agent, trying to find an alternative solution (Egyptian citizens require visas both to enter Ukraine (for travel to the border) and to Moldova (for transit). Finally, the agent reported that the port captain allowed all 11 crew members to board the DRAGON vessel as soon as it docked in the port of Reni.

Unfortunately, neither the flag state, nor the port state, nor the crew members' citizenship state showed a willingness to pay for the repatriation of the stranded seafarers, citing a lack of funds/budget. Therefore, Natalia Yefimenko actively cooperated with the main office in London, which finally confirmed the possibility of providing financial assistance to the seafarers in the amount of $450 per person by transferring it to their bank accounts. This made it possible to pay for air tickets for all 11 crew members, as well as to organize their meals if necessary.

On October 20, the ship agent in Reni confirmed that the port authorities and the captain of the DRAGON vessel had given permission for the transfer of the 11 Egyptians from the MIRA vessel to the port. At that time, the ITF financial department had already confirmed the transfer of financial assistance to the seafarers, and later confirmation of receipt was reported to Natalia Yefimenko.

On October 25, all 11 crew members of the MIRA vessel were transferred to the DRAGON vessel. The Ukrainian captain remained on board to ensure the safety of the vessel, to take conservation measures for cold lay-up, and to complete all necessary documents required by the port authorities.

On October 27, the 11 Egyptians disembarked from the DRAGON vessel in Istanbul and headed to the airport. Later that evening, they confirmed their safe arrival in Cairo, from where each of the seafarers proceeded to their place of residence.

This case is illustrative on several criteria. Firstly, regarding wage arrears, ITF and MTWTU always emphasize: one should not wait for the problem to resolve itself and accumulate wage arrears, but should seek assistance immediately if even minor arrears arise. Because if the shipowner goes bankrupt, and even if the ship is insured, the Protection & Indemnity Club can only return wages to seafarers for a maximum period of 4 months.

Secondly, attention is drawn to how timely contact with the ITF Inspectorate affects the likelihood of successfully resolving a claim. If a seafarer or the entire crew needs consultation or assistance from the ITF Inspectorate, the most correct and effective way is to contact the Inspector at the location of the ship or the nearest one in the region. This can be easily done using the ITF Seafarers app. We recommend downloading it using the QR code:

Download the ITF Seafarers App for iOS devices >>

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