The discussion of unpaid wages is making its way from captain to captain and permeating the crew industry. It’s a topic we discussed in issue 67 of The Crew Report, following which we had an array of responses. Of particular interest, however, was when a superyacht captain (under his request to remain anonymous, let’s call him Captain X) contacted The Crew Report, explaining he and his crew were bearing the burden of unpaid wages that very moment. Wishing to highlight the problem and prove it’s not just hearsay, Captain X chose to share his story with The Crew Report.

The problem began when the superyacht – under management but already suffering slight pangs of financial troubles from its previous owner – was purchased by its new owner. (In fact, it was on this same boat, with different owners, that in the past this same captain also experienced an unfair dismissal.) “We were told money was a bit short before the boat was sold but were told that once the deal went through everything would be sorted out, but it got worse. We went from having little money to no money at all. They haven’t paid the crew since the end of December and I’ve had to use my money to feed the crew,” explains Captain X.

Unpaid crew wages, moreover, is often the sign of many more unpaid bills lying in the captain’s office – something with which Captain X is unfortunately familiar; he has even had to subsidise costs with the boat’s own cash. “We’re talking about the best part of 200,000 euros of debt. We had to leave Malta at the beginning of November without paying all our bills down there, and they were kind enough to let us go on a signed letter from the management company saying we would pay within 30 days and they still haven’t been paid and they’re furious. I paid 50 per cent with the boat’s cash. And now we’re left sitting in San Remo and we need to pay the port – we’ve been there since November,” explains Captain X, who adds that he is confident money is on the way, believing it to have been sent last week. “In fact, if there hadn’t been signs of any money being sent the yacht probably would have been arrested.”

A difficult situation for a captain to find himself in, dealing with the non-payment of crew wages and additional bills should really not even be a consideration where a management company is involved, and this is where Captain X’s frustrations are, quite rightly, most evident. “I blame the management company for not having enough money upfront before it got to this stage.” Captain X adds that the many layers within management companies can sometimes complicate matters, explaining that one member of the management company is equally appalled but cannot get this message or urgency to the management company’s owner.

"We’re in 2014, not 1914, and it’s really annoying that people can still treat crew like this."

“I just don’t know how you can control it. I understand people have unexpected financial disasters and some of these rich people can lose fortunes overnight. I understand the owner’s problem but we’re at the bottom,” he concludes. “You can’t really walk away – if you do that you stand less chance of getting paid. We’re in 2014, not 1914, and it’s really annoying that people can still treat crew like this. It causes a lot of stress between the captain and the crew, because the crew can only turn to the captain. If you stay there without getting paid you very quickly find yourself with no money and if you’ve got a mortgage and family to support you can run out of money – especially if you’re not on captains’ wages. In 2014 it just shouldn’t be allowed. There should be more protection. I’m not advocating any more rules in yachting – there are too many already. But there still seems to be very little to protect crew.”

Since the interview, Captain X and his crew have been paid the balance of their January salaries in March. In addition, the yacht’s insurance company has cancelled the cover due to non-payment of annual policies, leaving the crew and yacht, believes Captain X, uninsured. The last few days have seen meetings take place and transfers are being made to clear most of the debts and pay the crew the outstanding sums, though Captain X confirms he believes the situation is not yet over.