The amendments to the Maritime Labor Convention - 2006 (MLC) aiming to protect the rights of abandoned seafarers entered into force about two years ago - in January, 2017.
They require shipowners to provide each vessel with two insurance certificates over financial guarantees to seafarers. One document is to confirm that financial security is in place for outstanding wages up to four months and for repatriation costs, the other one secures the cover for compensation for long-term disability or death. Both Certificates must be posted in a conspicuous place on board or be presented by the Master at the first request of a crew member.
Since then, Labor Inspectors of the Far Eastern Territorial Organization of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR FETO) check for the existence of required insurance certificates on board the ships where Russian seafarers work, and, what is the most important, they check the fulfillment of obligations in case of an insured event. So, for the period of 2017-2018 they visited 155 vessels which were staying at the ports of Nakhodka, Vostochny and Kozmino, there were Russian crew members on board 53 of those inspected ships. During the inspections it was found out that all ships had the insurance certificates required by the amendments to the MLC. However, in practice, insurance companies do not pay out at the risk events.
During the inspections, the SUR FETO made a list of companies that insure the liability of employers who owns the vessels with Russian crew members, and the number of vessels insured by these companies. This list includes the following companies: "Ingosstrakh", Moscow - 21 vessels, "Soglasie", Moscow - 5 vessels, "Navigaters P & I", London - 5 vessels, "Maritime Mutual", New Zealand - 3 vessels, "Hydor Norway", Oslo - 3 vessels, “Rosgosstrakh”, “Pari”, “AMT Insurance”, Moscow - 2 vessels each, “American club”, New York - 2 vessels, “SOGAZ”, “ABSOLUT”, “ ALFA”, Moscow – 1 vessel each, “London P & I”, Antwerp - 1 ship, “Japan P & I”, Tokyo - 1 ship, “RAETS MARINE”, Rotterdam - 1 ship, “UK P & I”, London - 1 ship, “Hanseatic”, Hamburg - 1 ship .
The underwriter “Navigators P & I”, which acted as a guarantor for company “Inderton”, the owner of the vessels “Iman”, “Samarga” and “Amgu” (the flag of Togo) is an example of what happens when the shipowner does not pay seafarers.
The Seafarers' Union of Russia included the company “Inderton” in the watch list on the basis of complaints from it's employees on regular non-payment of wages. The ships' arrests and crew members’ strikes were the common ways to succeed in recovering seafarers' outstanding wages when dealing with this company .
“It is not known what the function of “Navigators P & I” is,” says Nikolai Sukhanov, the Chairman of the SUR FETO. - This underwriter does not provide seafarers with financial guarantees of the shipowner. In light of the current situation, the SUR FETO is intent to apply to the relevant authorities in order to oblige the shipowner “Inderton” to provide real financial protection to the seafarers. In addition, we are going to verify the validity of the insurance at “Navigators P & I” and to clear up why the company does not pay compensation to seafarers when an insured event occurs”.
The activity of the insurance company «Hanseatic Underwriter» also raises some doubts. It insured the liability of the shipowner “M & K Ocean International Co Ltd” towards crew members of M/V “Sea Alexa” (flag of Tanzania). Despite this, the debts to the seafarers are not paid. “Russian court many times ruled in favor of the seafarers and obliged the employer to pay the debts, while the insurance company remained on the sidelines,” continues the leader of the SUR FETO.
The recent case involved with the insurance company "Soglasie", which refused to pay the compensation for non-payment of wages to the captain of the vessel "Smile". His backwages amounted to $3,700. The SUR FETO prepares a lawsuit in court upon this case. “This process is very important for us: many SUR members work on ships insured by the “Soglasie”, - said Nikolai Sukhanov, the SUR FETO Chairman.
The Far Eastern Territorial Organization of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia believes that the requirements for shipowners concerning the insurance of their financial guarantees towards seafarers in the event of bankruptcy of companies and outstanding wage should be revised, since the problem has now passed into the insurance field. It emerged that the amendments to the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 did not work just at the stage of occurrence of the insured event.
Taking into consideration the gravity of the situation, the SUR advices seafarers to examine carefully the terms of the document, especially in part of insurance provisions, before signing a contract of employment, or better to contact a trade union, which know absolutely everything about crewing and shipping companies.
The experience has proven that at present the best and reliable guarantee of decent employment is the collective bargaining agreement of the International Transport Workers' Federation.