Indian Authorities Warn Seafarers of "Deceitful" Recruiters and Scammers

An abandoned seafarer swims back to his derelict vessel (ITF)

Published Jun 25, 2024 8:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

India's shipping ministry is warning seafarers to avoid unscrupulous operators and recruiters who abandon mariners at overseas ports. The practice of seafarer abandonment has been growing, according to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), and the directorate's guidance is intended to help mariners secure their rights if and when their employer stops paying their wages. 

As a starting point, the directorate advises new seafarers to check up on the reputation of an employer or manning agency before signing on for a position, and to carefully review the terms of their employment contract. "[The] market is flooded with various scam agents," the agency said. "New joiners have very little knowledge about the maritime industry, and they easily fall prey to agents."

If the crew does run into a problem with wage payment, the directorate advises notifying Indian authorities right away, then starting the process to get the ship's P&I insurer to cover the shipowner's debts using their MLC financial security coverage. 

?If the owner or agent does not respond to inquiries about unpaid wages, and abandons the vessel to its fate, the directorate advises seafarers to get the ship arrested and sold in order to cover the owner's debts, just like an unpaid bunker broker or banker would - not as a last resort, but immediately. 

"Seafarers are not paid for wages, food, accommodation, drinking water supplies, fuel for survival and medical care then seafarer should immediately approach their seafarers trade union or Indian embassy or Indian consulate or welfare organizations to arrange for a local lawyer to enforce their rights under maritime lien," the directorate advised. 

The notice includes a list of legitimate maritime academies and advises new entrants in the industry to avoid uncertified, uncredentialed maritime schools, which may be fraudulent. 

"This notice is seen as a beneficial step towards safeguarding the rights and well being of seafarers and ensuring the integrity of the maritime recruitment process. It will not only serve as a guide for current seafarers but will also be of great help to new seafarers who are looking to apply for recruitment in the maritime industry," said Frank Viegas, president of the Goan Seamen Association of India (GSAI). 

Last month, the directorate also issued an urgent warning about another unscrupulous practice: a scam that preys on seafarers' families. The agency has received multiple reports of a fraudulent scheme that targets the family members of seafarers while they are away: the fraudsters contact the family via phone or email and say that the crewmember has been involved in illegal activity, and demand money from the family in exchange for the seafarer's "release." (In reality, the seafarer is simply away at work, and the scammer makes off with the money.) The directorate urged seafarers and their families to be sure to verify the identity of the caller, and not to transfer any money to anyone without first validating their request. 

"There have been incidents involving individuals falsely claiming to be associated with seafarers onboard vessels or pretending to be as from law enforcing authorities such as Customs, State Police Departments, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Immigration Officials and Govt. officials from Ministry etc., and soliciting money from their family members under fraudulent pretences," warned Indian Deputy Director General of Shipping Capt. Daniel J Joseph. "These claims are generally false and are designed to deceive and exploit unsuspecting family members."