x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Drop in oil prices leads to increase in abandoned ships off UAE shore

An official from the Federal Transport Authority urged sailors to do their homework before working for a shipping company

The decline in oil prices and tough economic conditions faced by shipping companies have contributed to an increasing number of ships being abandoned off the country’s coast.

Ships are being abandoned by small companies operating in the offshore business that run into trouble when they expand their fleet but business dries up or there is insufficient cash to pay salaries.

“The fall in the price of oil has had a major impact on the maritime business in the Gulf that is dominated by the oil industry,” said Paul Burt, head of welfare group Mission to Seafarers.

“Some shipping companies have a cash flow problem because they themselves haven’t been paid by their clients. The way it works is they ring fence each ship. The common practice is each ship has to pay its way on the basis of its own activity. It can’t be subsidized with money from another area that the company may have. One might want to argue that that practice should change in the face of human suffering, but that’s the way it tends to work.”

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Sailors reach out for aid and guidance from the group that works with various parties to resolve cases.

“It’s time consuming and we take each case on merit. We have to listen to the story on both sides,” Mr Burt said.

“They (owners) are not all crooks. Some are simply suffering because of bad economic conditions and are doing all they can to relieve the suffering of their men.”

Abandoned ships are a global problem that is significantly under-reported, so it’s difficult to know the actual picture, said Ben Bailey, assistant director of advocacy and regional engagement at the mission’s London office.

“For many, the abandonment is total, no contact from the ship owner, no food, no supplies and no wages. For others, the abandonment might be partial, they may still be getting food and bunkers, but the wages have been stopped,” he said, adding that the declining price of oil caused some owners to lay up vessels until the price made it worthwhile to trade.

Abdulla Al Kathiri, general manager at the Federal Transport Authority, urged sailors to do their homework.

“If the seafarer is recruited through a crewing agency, he must make sure that the agency is properly run and has a system for checking the stability of companies for which they supply crew.”

Ships are often registered in a different country from the owner making it complicated to resolve the issue.

“Most ships abandoned in the UAE are foreign flag ships with foreign seafarers on board. If the owner fails to fulfil his obligation towards his crew, it’s the country with which the ship has its flag that should interfere to take action to ensure the crew are taken care of, provided with decent living conditions, ensure wages are paid, and repatriate them back to their home countries. Unfortunately, most of the ships abandoned are registered with the flag of connivance. Flag of convenience is a business practice whereby a merchant ship is registered in a country other than that of the ship's owners. Owners of a ship may register the ship under a flag of convenience to reduce operating costs or avoid the regulations of the owner's country,” Mr Al Kathiri said.