UAE to issue financial penalties to operators of abandoned ships

The move is key to efforts to protect the rights of seafarers

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Operators of merchant tankers and other commercial vessels will face financial penalties under a new government resolution to address the rights of seafarers.

Cases of abandonment will come under tighter scrutiny after a new Cabinet resolution on governing marine wrecks and offending ships was passed.

A framework outlined by the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure will protect the marine environment, maritime security and the rights of seafarers on board ships in UAE waters and ports.

Owners of abandoned vessels will now be hit with a Dh20,000 fine, with an additional Dh10,000 fine incurred for each seafarer on board.

If repeated, the fine will be doubled and the company licence cancelled.

“This resolution applies to all the national and foreign ships in the state waters and ports, if it meets the description of the wreck, is a violating ship, is unseaworthy [and] deteriorated, abandoned by its seafarers, owners or operator,” read the new law.

A ship operator will also be in breach of UAE regulations if “owners or operator do not pay the salary of seafarers for a period of two consecutive months or more, [fails to] provide provisions, supplies, and fuel to run the ships’ engines, fails to meet the minimum safe manning, has hazardous cargoes on board.”

Warships or public service ships owned by the federal and local governmental entities are exempt from the rules.

The new rules come into force on September 15.

“The resolution is another welcome step forward to address the pernicious issue of seafarer abandonment,” said David Hammond, chief executive of the Human Rights at Sea organisation.

“The true test will be the enforcement and its associated deterrent effect, combined with the need for the introduction of a state-level inspection regime.”

Several high-profile cases have emerged in recent years of seafarers abandoned at sea without pay and forced to live on basic rations for sometimes years at a time.

The most recent case involved the MT Iba, a shipping tanker anchored off the Sharjah coast that broke free in rough seas and washed ashore in Umm Al Quwain.

The plight of the five crew on board – some had been trapped on board for three years due to the operator’s financial problems – made headlines around the world.

They finally went home to their families after four years stranded in the Gulf.

The ship had sat anchored off the UAE coast since 2017 after owners Alco Shipping hit financial problems.

Financial records of the ship seen by The National in February showed an outstanding mortgage of $1.35m on the tanker, along with fees and fines in the UAE and Panama of more than $41,000.

Other debts included towing the ship for salvage for $150,000, agent fees of $12,000 for supplying crew, and outstanding port fees of $192,000.

The crew said they were collectively owed more than $200,000.

In another case of 'ghost' ships in UAE waters, the Federal Transport Authority in April 2019, relieved seafarers on board the MV Azraqmoiah tanker.

The ship was unable to leave its anchorage off the UAE coast since April 2017.

As per the new rules, owners will also be punished if fees and expenses are owed in towing a vessel into port, or insurance or berthing costs are unpaid.

The new regulations will also punish vessels sailing under forged or expired registration documents or without a recognised flag of a particular country, a practice deployed by rogue operators to skirt maritime laws, liabilities and crew obligations.

A new wrecks and violating ships committee is to be established under the ministry to regulate cases of abandonment and other rule breaches.

First offenders will be sent a written warning, with a demand for amendments within 60 days.

Owners will also be punished with a Dh20,000 fine for failing to provide adequate insurance to cover the welfare of the crew on board and the vessel’s general operations.

Updated: July 28, 2021, 1:39 PM