Port of Dakar refuses to rescue abandoned seafarers

On August 12, the ITF reported the Port of Dakar in Senegal has said it is too busy to rescue a cargo ship at its anchorage which has been without electricity and sidelights for months, putting its seafarers and those on passing ships in grave danger – especially at night.

The MV Onda (IMO 8912467) was declared abandoned in December 2021 and has now been at Dakar for more than five months. Its engine has broken down meaning that it has no power and so cannot be lit to warn passing vessels of its presence.

The risk of a collision with the unlit vessel is high due of the anchorage’s proximity to a crowded seaway, warns the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

“Dakar’s anchorage has ships coming and going all the time. It sits a few kilometres from West Africa’s main shipping lanes,” said Steve Trowsdale, Inspectorate Coordinator at the ITF. 

“An unlit vessel positioned there at night puts the lives of the Onda’s seafarers in immediate danger as well as those on any ship passing by. There has already been one near miss. If an oil tanker crashes through the Onda, there will be an environmental as well as human disaster.”

The ITF has contacted authorities at Dakar asking that the Onda be towed into port so that repairs can be made to the engine to make it safe. Their response was that the port is already too busy.

“That’s unacceptable,” said Trowsdale. “Effectively, they are prioritizing the business of the port over the safety of seafarers. I hope the people who have made this decision can be persuaded to change their minds before there is a catastrophe and they have the lives of seafarers on their consciences.”

Owners are nowhere to be seen

The four seafarers from Cameroon, Lebanon, Nigeria and Syria have been left without pay or sufficient provisions by the Onda’s owners and operators for months. The ship is operated by AMJ Marine Services of Honduras. It is owned by the Amin Ship Company SA, also of Honduras. They have been providing the crew with some provisions but not nearly enough to survive.

The ITF has stepped in to ensure they receive full provisions and drinking water for as long as they remain at anchor.

The crew are owed each between five- and nine-month’s pay, estimated at over US$59,000. All four seafarers have requested repatriation, at the cost of the owner, as is their right under the Maritime Labor Convention. This is unlikely to happen until the ship is allowed into the main port at Dakar.

This is the second time a crew on the Onda has been abandoned by its owners Amin Ship Company. In 2020, the company claimed that the ship was laid up in Douala, Cameroon with only watch keepers on board, even though four crew members had paperwork showing they were fully fledged seafarers. 

Crew were owed several months’ wages. They were tricked into taking some wages as cash with a promise that they would receive the rest after a month. But once they left the vessel, they never received anything.

This time around, the Onda’s owners and operators did not respond to the ITF when the federation asked them to explain why the ship has been left in the dangerous situation or when the crew will be paid.

‘Chaotic’ Flag of Convenience system failing seafarers

The situation is made more complex by the Onda’s uncertain flag status. It was previously registered in Togo, but that country says the registration was transferred to Guyana in July 2021. Indeed, the ship was picked up broadcasting a Guyanese call sign on its automated identification system as recently as April this year. However, the Guyana register has no record of the ship and suspects it is operating illegally under a ‘false flag’.

“The Flag of Convenience system is chaotic,” said Trowsdale, “and leaves ample room for unscrupulous shipowners to dodge and weave their way out of their obligations. 

“Governments have allowed a morally bankrupt system to develop where it’s commonplace to see a ship change register on paper four or five times over its service life, switching between flags to avoid tax, evade environmental regulations, and duck their responsibilities to crew.”

While owners like Amin can so easily avoid their obligations, often it falls to port authorities like those in Dakar to step in and save the lives of seafarers.

“There is no doubt the owners and operators have shown neglect in their treatment of their crew over a number of years,” said Trowsdale.

“However, I have little confidence that they can be persuaded to sort this situation out. In the meantime, the crew remains in great danger and our only hope is that the authorities at Dakar or higher up in the Senegalese government take the action needed.” 

Photo credit: ITF

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