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Abdul Nasser Saleh spent nearly a decade working without pay on a cargo ship abandoned by its owner at ports along the Red Sea. Saleh’s story is just one part of a global issue where crew members are abandoned by shipowners, leaving sailors without pay for months or even years. The United Nations has seen an increase in the number of cases of abandoned crew members, reaching its highest levels in recent years due to the global pandemic, rising fuel costs, and other factors.

In Saleh’s case, he was stuck in the seaport of Jeddah for two years, unable to set foot on land due to Saudi Arabia’s strict immigration laws. Countries that register these ships and are required by treaty to assist abandoned seafarers sometimes fail to get involved in the cases. Shipowners often abandon crew members due to financial difficulties, leaving them without basic supplies and struggling to support their families back home.

Returning to Egypt in April brought joy to Saleh, but he also received sad news about his family’s struggles during his decade without an income. Saleh had been abandoned on the Al-Maha, a ship he once took pride in working on as an engineer. The ship, covered in dust and rust, became a prison for Saleh as he waited for his unpaid wages while running laps on the deck and feeling the days blur into monotony.

The surge in abandonment cases is due to various factors such as canceled shipments, port delays, and spikes in fuel and labor costs. Many abandoned ships are barely seaworthy and represent smaller companies operating on the edge of legality. The lack of enforcement of international agreements aimed at protecting seafarers exacerbates the problem, with flag states failing to step in when needed.

Fishing boats, often excluded from protections under international labor agreements, are also vulnerable to abandonment. Crew members on fishing vessels operated by American company McAdam’s Fish faced wage disputes and delays in payment. Despite working long hours to catch tuna in the North Pacific, crew members were paid less than they were owed. The ongoing wage dispute reflects the lack of regulations in the industry to protect fishing crews.

Saleh’s story highlights the struggles faced by abandoned seafarers around the world. After years of waiting for his unpaid wages, Saleh finally reached a settlement and was able to leave the ship. While he did not receive the full amount owed to him, Saleh expressed relief that he could finally leave the ship and be closer to his family. The case underscores the need for greater oversight and enforcement of international agreements to protect seafarers from abandonment and exploitation.

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