UK MCA Detains Five Cruise Ships Over Crew Welfare Concerns

Astoria circa 2016 (Pjotr Mahhonin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Published Jun 19, 2020 2:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained the cruise ship Astoria at the port of Tilbury pending an inspection. After boarding, the MCA issued detentions to the Astoria and four other vessels in the operator's fleet - the Astor, Colombus, Vasco da Gama and Marco Polo. 

According to Indian politician Kshitiji Hitentra Thakur, MLA, about 600 Indian seafarers are stranded aboard the Magellan, Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Astor, Astoria and Marco Polo in the UK. Their repatriation arrangements have allegedly been frustrated by shifting Indian government policy regarding their permission to return, and they have remained on board for nearly 90 days. 

According to the Astoria's commercial operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, 50 members of the crew recently went on a work strike and stopped "performing routine maintenance on board." Their protest is aimed at attracting attention to their inability to fly home, the cruise line said. Like many maritime operators, CMV is working to facilitate repatriation, and it said that its "thoughts and sympathies" are with its staff. 

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained Astoria at Tilbury on Thursday in order to ensure that the ship underwent an inspection. “The detention is a preventative measure in line with UK regulations, in order that a full inspection of the ship related to the maritime labour convention can be carried out before its intended departure. It cannot leave the port until the inspection is completed,” MCA said in a statement Friday. “Five other ships in the same [ship management] company – Global Cruise Lines Ltd – four others based at Tilbury and one at Bristol, are also being inspected. Acting as the port state control authority for the UK, the MCA has taken this action following a number of serious concerns which were raised about the welfare of the crew.”

Later Friday, MCA said that Astoria, Astor, Columbus, Vasco de Gama and Marco Polo have all been detained for Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) violations.

According to the agency, its surveyors found a number of expired and invalid Seafarers Employment Agreements, late payment of wages and seafarers who had been on board for over 12 months. "All these are in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and the ships have been detained for that reason," MCA said. The Magellan - the sixth vessel MCA inspected - had no major identified deficiencies and was not detained. 

“The welfare of seafarers is of the utmost importance and we take any reports of safety concerns around crew incredibly seriously," said UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps. "We will not hesitate to continue to use every power within our control to safeguard the health and happiness of every seafarer currently working in the UK."

In its statement, MCA did not address the question of whether other nations will allow the stranded seafarers aboard these ships to be repatriated via air travel - the primary obstacle identified by CMV and the All India Seafarers Union.

Sky News reported this week that CMV is in "emergency" talks with its creditors to secure additional liquidity.