“I resigned from a yacht within the terms of my agreement,” one crewmember anonymously told us. “The yacht paid for my flight home then the manager decided they would deduct the costs from my final pay, (which does not include holiday time) - the reason being that I was hired through an agency and it cost them a lot of money I will be writing to Cayman Islands Shipping Registry but I am not sure where else to turn to claim what I believe is owed to me.”
Of particular interest were comments received from Nautilus International, a union for maritime professional, as they too had noticed a dramatic rise in yacht crew contacting them to seek legal help for cases of non-payment. Paul Keenan, senior national secretary at Nautilus, claims to have assisted over 180 superyacht crew in the last two years – the majority with owed wages, notice pay, accrued leave or problems with repatriation. “The union is dealing with an increasing number of cases involving seafarers from large yachts who have had their basic employment rights ignored by owners who seem to believe they can leave crews high and dry with unpaid wages,” he says.
One case Keenan is currently dealing with, cited as an example, involves eight crewmembers from a Maltese-flagged yacht who contacted Nautilus last year when they were owed several months’ wages. With advice from union they were paid – but they have since been back in contact to say that their contracts on the vessel had come to an end and they were once again owed more than a month’s worth of salary. “Another crewmember had contacted the owner about the owed wages,” Keenan adds, “and the owner told him he didn’t care about dead dogs – meaning that he didn’t care because they were no longer working for him.”
“This is just one example of how crew are mistreated week in week out,” he explains. “In this case, we are now in a position where we have lawyers involved and are looking to arrest the yacht. The sum involved comes to almost 100,000 dollars and we believe the owner is deliberately withholding the payments – a position which is cynical and wholly unsustainable.”
“It seems that the only thing that many of these owners understand is the threat of legal action and the yacht being taken off them.”
The PYA had made previous suggestions that the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 will be starting to improve matters as more and more yachts will be using valid and enforceable employment contracts. However, Keenan warned that many Seafarer Employment Agreements are found not to be compliant with the terms of the convention. “We raised the non-conformities with one flag state and the excuse we got was that they have 600 ships on the register and are too busy to check everything,” he adds.
The union also claims that they recently secured 8,000 euros in owed salary and notice pay for one captain and is currently dealing with the case of five crew from a Cayman Islands-registered yacht who are owed wages. In another case in Italy, Nautilus is helping members claim 30,000 euros in outstanding pay. “It seems that the only thing that many of these owners understand is the threat of legal action and the yacht being taken off them,” Keenan believes.
Given the small and private nature of our industry, many crewmembers may feel uncomfortable pursuing legal action against owners for fear of risking their reputation and future career. But is this something that more crewmembers in otherwise helpless positions should be considering or should legal action against owners be avoided altogether? The Crew Report would be interested to know any thoughts on the topic in the comments section below.