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The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) has published some advice for yacht crew working on board vessels linked to Russia amidst the current crisis in Ukraine. It is also offering free personalised advice for crew via its PYA Member Assistance Service (MAS), plus a discount on its membership.
According to the PYA, there are concerns among some of its members regarding their legal and financial status on board Russian-flagged or Russian-owned yachts. In a statement, it addressed some of the most pertinent points to serving yacht crew:
The Cayman Islands Shipping Registry in the South of France has received calls from crew on yachts with Russian connections, currently in Italian ports, who are worried about the implications if they assist in moving the yacht from Italy into international waters or ‘safe havens’. Some Russian-connected yachts have already arrived in the Maldives and Montenegro, however, their ultimate ‘safe haven’ there may not be assured. Provided that a yacht has not been formally placed under a detention order by flag or port state, and complies with all normal departure procedures, then moving a yacht from A to B in compliance with orders from the usual operational command centre would not place the crew in legal jeopardy. Moving, or attempting to move, a yacht that is under formal detention would constitute a serious offence. The UK has recently announced that it has banned Russian-linked vessels from docking at any of its ports, whereas the EU is still allowing the entry of Russian-linked vessels which are not subject to sanction.
Legally, the owner of a vessel is the person or entity listed on their vessel's Certificate of Registry. Crew may be employed by the vessel owner, or more commonly by an offshore ‘cell’ entity. They may or may not know the identity of the yacht’s beneficial owner(s). Where such owners have been identified and sanctioned by state authorities, their assets, including yachts, face denial of access to the said owners or their representatives. This likely means that, in the case of a sanctioned yacht, the crew would be required by the local port state officials to leave the vessel, which would then become a ‘Navire Désarme’. There are then concerns for crew members about where to go next and how to recover any outstanding wages.
Regarding where crew members can go after leaving a sanctioned vessel, there are several factors to consider. If the yacht is in an EU port, then EU crew on board are free to consider whether to go home, or travel to or remain in an EU port where they can seek new employment while dealing with recuperation costs and unpaid wages. Non-EU crew with or without Schengen visas, and whose 90 days have not expired, may also return to or remain in the EU, but they have no right to approach crew agencies or otherwise seek new employment. Legally, they must return home and apply for a new job from there. To avoid any entanglement with the vagaries of US immigration laws, non-US crew on a sanctioned vessel in a US port should, if required to leave such a vessel, depart the US as soon as possible. However, as US immigration regulations require all crew to hold a valid visa to enter a port, there should be no issue leaving the vessel. Russian nationals would find themselves in a particularly invidious situation on a sanctioned vessel. Their best course of action would be to return home as soon as possible and by any means.
Repatriation costs should be paid by the yacht owner. In the case of commercially registered yachts, insurance coverage is compulsory to cover such costs in the event of an owner’s inability to do so. However, access to such pay-out may not be a simple process for any individual crew member. The flag state then has a responsibility to assist the stranded seafarer with repatriation. If the flag response is slow or is unforthcoming, one’s consulate would normally assist with repatriation, or the port state may intervene to assist in returning the crew home.
Regarding outstanding wages (including leave and any other contractual benefits) in the event of having to leave a sanctioned vessel, these can only be recovered after leaving the vessel. No pre-emptive action is possible by any port or flag state authority, or by any seafarer’s organisation of any kind. In order to protect their claims, seafarers should remain with the vessel for as long as possible, and assemble a portfolio of evidence of entitlement to wages. Documentation should include, but not be limited to, a SEA or other contract, previous pay slips, copies of relevant notations in the Official Log Book, copies of crew lists, and copies of any crew uniform issuance list(s) on which their signature occurs. The PYA is currently working with maritime lawyers who can provide its members with further assistance to claim unpaid wages. In any situation involving crew’s unpaid or disputed wages, if there is no satisfactory outcome achieved by the efforts of the captain or management company, the next port of call is the flag state. The port state may enforce payment of retained wages.
For free advice, seafarers can contact the PYA office in order to use its Member Assistance Service (MAS), which is a free service available to all crew, including non-members. The service has a track record of successfully resolved wage disputes, and is totally private and confidential between the parties concerned. There is no public disclosure of the identities of crew, owners, management companies or yachts, thereby protecting the reputation and career path of the seafarer.
PYA’s Member Assistance Service (MAS): email@example.com
French Mediterranean Coastguard: +33 (0)9 70 27 86 92
Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, France (Valbonne): +33 (0)4 89 02 76 09
Marshall Islands Registry: firstname.lastname@example.org
Virgin Islands Shipping Registry: +1 284 468 9646 / email@example.com
Transport Malta: +356 21 22 22 03
Red Ensign Group: REGsecretariat@mcga.gov.uk
The PYA represents yacht crew worldwide and can only continue to provide its advice and support services through the support of its members and partners. To further grow its capacity and membership network, the PYA is offering all crew a 20% discount on new memberships until 30th April 2022, using the code ‘ADVICE22’.
For more information, visit PYA.
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