Stella Maris provides support in face of alarming rise in abandoned crew

Cases of seafarers abandoned by shipowners without money, support, or the means to get home have reached alarming levels around the world, and global maritime charity Stella Maris is providing support to some of those affected.

The rise in the number of distressing cases in the sector has become a humanitarian crisis with many seafarers suffering mental issues as they struggle to find a way to resolve their parlous situation.

“This is a call to action for the entire maritime industry,” said Stella Maris CEO Tim Hill. “We must unite to enforce international laws, hold negligent companies accountable, and provide immediate assistance to abandoned crew.

“Ship abandonment has reached alarming levels, leaving many seafarers stranded without support, wages, or a way home. They deserve respect, dignity, and the assurance that they will never be forgotten.”

Tim Hill

Data from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) highlights the huge rise in abandonment cases, which occur when shipowners withhold wages, repatriation, and even basic needs such as food, accommodation and medical care. In just 10 years, known cases have soared from little more than a dozen-a-year to 143 in 2023 with more than 100 cases already reported in 2024.

Deacon Joseph O’Donnell, Stella Maris Senior Area Port Chaplain for Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “We ask those companies and organizations which benefit from the maritime industry, such as major retailers, to join us to put a stop to abandonment.”

A major issue in numerous labor supply countries is the role of formal recruitment agencies and “unlicensed agents,” who visit villages with promises of wages and conditions that often don’t materialize. “It will really help if we can cut out these unlicensed agents, better regulate the formal recruiters and properly introduce new skilled work visas,” said Deacon O’Donnell.

He highlighted a recent issue when an Indian crew, which had not received their wages for several months, was abandoned in Troon in south-west Scotland.

“We supplied groceries, clothing, and free mobile phone SIM cards so they could talk to their families back home,” he said. “We also must consider how much mental strain they are under with no money, no means of getting home and absolutely no idea what their future is.”

Stella Maris provided the Indian crew with pastoral support and reassurance. Following the charity’s intervention, the crew was eventually paid and repatriated back home.

Stella Maris Kenya supported crew on an abandoned vessel in Mombasa port

In recent years, Stella Maris has supported other abandoned crews in countries around the world such as Kenya and Taiwan. Its team in Taiwan supported the crew of eight Indonesians on a cargo ship abandoned in Kaohsiung port, who needed provisions and help to return home to their families. Its team in Kenya supported crew members on an abandoned fishing vessel in Mombasa port for over a year with food, water and Wi-Fi.

Margaret Masibo, the Stella Maris chaplain in Mombasa, Kenya, recalls: “Men were crying, others were shouting, some had withdrawn into silence. For several days, they’d had no food or fresh water. They were starving to death. Since the ship had been abandoned, not a single person had stepped on board to help – until I did. The men had no money and couldn’t disembark because they didn’t have papers to be in Kenya. It was a terrible, heart-breaking sight to see people abandoned so carelessly.”

“Awareness of these issues needs to be raised to higher government levels. It is a truly global issue,” added Deacon O’Donnell.

~ Story written by Polaris Media