Recently, the Seafarers Union of Russia was contacted by crewmembers of the m/v Khatanga owned by of the Murmansk shipping company, which was stuck in the Polish port of Gdynia. Two seafarers had health problems and stayed on board for about eleven months. One of them worked on board for seven months and be repatriated due to the death of his father. Despite this fact, the company did not take steps toward the repatriation and in response to a letter from the union, the company replied that at the moment the change is only possible if you have a Schengen visa, but the visa center in Murmansk is closed. The shipping company asked the SUR to help the seafarer to return home, confirming to pay for tickets. This was achieved only thanks to the coordination of efforts of Russian, European and international trade unions and national authorities.
The health problems of the seafarers from the m/v Khatanga arose a long time ago, but the issue has not been resolved for a long time. Boatswain advised the company that operation for the removal of a hernia had to be performed in May, but he could not get to and despite he already wrote to the company that he could not perform his duties for health reasons, no response was received. The seafarer had no medical insurance and could only go to a doctor for a fee, but his bank card had already expired. The cook had problems with blood pressure and an even the ambulance was called when he was feeling bad. He could only get the necessary medications through a paid doctor's appointment. It was necessary to solve the problems of the crewmembers as quickly as possible, because stay on board delayed far too long and could lead to more serious health consequences. In response to the messages received from the seafarers and the company, the SUR sent a request to the European transport workers ' Federation (ETF) as it was necessary to find out if there was a way to obtain the Schengen visas and repatriate the crewmembers. The ETF immediately started looking for possible ways. Armed with more detailed information about the situation obtained from the ITF inspector in Poland, the ETF requested the Polish Maritime administration and local border control how to facilitate the crossing of borders for three Russian seafarers. The agencies gave clear instructions, in particular, information about border control and how to submit a request for the border crossing. The SUR used the information received and engaged in negotiations with the shipowner in order to make sure that the repatriation of the seafarers would take place safely. The repatriation was arranged through a ship's agent in Kaliningrad. Everything went well and last Friday the crewmembers finally went home. On July 18, they arrived in Murmansk, where two of them continued their journey home to other regions of Russia. It should be noted that six crewmembers remained on board, the contracts of employment of most of them were also extended. The shipowner in its letter to the union noted that their change is planned as soon as it is possible to obtain visas. The vessel remains in the port of Gdynia for several years due to financial problems that the shipping company has encountered, but today there are no debts to the seafarers, the crewmembers are regularly paid wages, and there is enough food and water on board. «On the one hand, this is a story of successful interaction between trade unions and the authorities, which allowed for two weeks to repatriate seafarers who have been asking to be sent home for several months without success, – said the representatives of the SUR. – However, it becomes obvious how difficult and complicated the process of changing the crew is. This case demonstrates that states need to implement comprehensive measures that will ensure that repatriation proceeds smoothly and quickly in all cases, regardless of the country of residence of the seafarers. Hundreds of thousands of crewmembers are stranded at sea, and if we have to work on each case separately, they will all have to wait for repatriation for a very long time». The ITF, the ETF and the SUR are calling on governments to act now. Only decisive action and inclusion will ensure that the rights of seafarers to shift, rest and medical care will not be violated