MV Sevastopol, a Russian-flagged ship, was arrested on the 22 October 2019 in Singapore due to unpaid agency fees. Clueless to why their vessel was arrested, the crew sought the Russian Embassy for assistance.
At the onset of the arrest, the Russian Embassy in Singapore made arrangements with the ship-owning company for the payment of the 13 crew members while they continued to stay on board during the arrested period. The crew continued to receive their salary until December 2019, when the company told the embassy that they had ran out of funds, and would not be able to keep up with subsequent wage payments.
The Russian Embassy turned to SMOU for assistance in January 2020. SMOU quickly jumped onto the case to assist the Russian Embassy and helped the affected crew by contacting the law firm, Gurbani & Co, to file their wage claim.
On 13 February, representatives from the Embassy, law firm and SMOU boarded the ship to meet with the crew. While speaking to the crew and looking through their documents, it was uncovered that the owners were in fact paying wages that are higher than their contractual terms, but this was based only on verbal promises. Due to the poor economy and high unemployment rates back in their country, they were forced to accept the poor terms and conditions set, bringing them to such a situation. The crew explained that despite the shady nature of the agreement, they took on the job so that they can earn their keep and support their families back home.
This posed a great challenge for the lawyers in filing their claims that are outside of their contractual agreement. The team advised the crew members to extract proof of their actual salary received from bank account statements and other supporting documents. With this additional proof of actual wages received by each crew member, the lawyers managed to draft and submit the Crew’s Statement of Claims to the court, which amounted to almost US$160,000 on the date of filing. The seafarers’ wages will then be recovered from the monies collected from the sales proceeds from the successful auction. The ship was successfully sold on 17 April.
Apart from worrying about their owed wages, the seafarers were concerned about their passage back home to their families. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, their repatriation home has been affected due to various countries imposing border controls and restricting crew changes to combat the spread of the virus. With advice from SMOU, the Russian Embassy has been consulting the Sheriff’s agent to facilitate the repatriation process. Arrangements are underway as the Sheriff’s agent continues to work with Singapore Government agencies to ensure that the crew members can be repatriated home safely.
SMOU lived out its mission in championing the interests of the 13 crew members, and will continue to add value to the maritime community and beyond.