Superyacht crews repaid millions in lost wages
Superyacht crews received £2.75m in unpaid wages last year, thanks to the maritime crew union Nautilus International. The increase in the amount recovered reflects a growing number of cases in the superyacht sector, with the firm expecting numbers to continue to rise in 2023.
Last year’s total topped the amount recovered from the previous two years combined. The organisation recovered £720,000 and £943,000 for its members in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
“We are living in difficult and unprecedented times, so it is important that we make sure seafarers are protected,” a Nautilus International spokesperson told Superyacht Investor.
The increase in cases are in part driven by the rise in number of sanctioned superyacht owners since Russia invaded Ukraine 11 months ago. “Russia has been one factor. We also had a big drive around the time of the invasion to get more members to the union which has also played a part. People are seeking more protection.”
Tim Clarke, director of crew agency, Quay Crew told SYI: “This is why becoming a member of a union like Nautilius is so important for crew to stay safe and ensure they are paid.”
He added that some responsibility must lie with the crew before they join a yacht, however. “Crew must take some sort of due diligence before they take a job, whether they google search for the owner or ask current crew members if there have been problems with payment in the past.”
Marianne Danissen, group head of Yacht Management, Camper & Nicholsons told SYI that the rise in cases can also be attributed to a lack of protection on yachts without management. “It can also be down to young seafarers often unaware of their rights and not reading their contracts before starting their jobs.”
Before joining a new vessel, Danissen said she encourages crew to read their Seafarers Employment Agreement (SEA) and seek advice. “[They should also] verify the basic requirements and ensure the contracts are issued as per the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) regulations, regardless of the yacht being commercial or privately registered.”
Russian sanctions are not the only reason some crew went unpaid in 2022. “The cases really depend on the individual situation,” said the Nautilus spokesperson. “Sometimes, payment can fall through the cracks if the owner is busy or other financial factors such as bankruptcy.”
It can also sometimes become a lengthy process getting some owners to pay. “We will initially contact the vessel’s owner and urge them to pay immediately, which will often work,” said the Nautilus International spokesperson. “There are also instances where the vessel is in danger of being seized and sold, with the proceeds being used to pay the crew. But no one wants it to get to that point.”
The union representative said that cases of unpaid wages tend to be more prominent than in other maritime sectors. “That is purely because it isn’t as regulated as other maritime sectors. The superyacht industry can be quite informal at times.” While the industry could benefit from more regulation and structure when it comes to wages, it may prove to be a near impossible task, he added.
“Maritime professionals work hard and deserve to be paid their wages on time and in full. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in the yacht sector,” said Derek Byrne, head of the yacht sector, Nautilus International. “The figure we have achieved in 2022 should remind those working on yachts that Nautilus membership is an essential safeguard against non-payment of wages or other poor treatment by employers.”
The Nautilus spokesperson said that despite 2022 being a record year, the number of wages recovered by the union at the end of 2023 will be even bigger. “Unfortunately, the problem is not going away. We expect the numbers to stay high this year and we already have a large number of ongoing cases.”
According to Clarke, he too believes that cases will continue to rise. “We’ve seen cases of crew going unpaid rise since the pandemic. As the sanctions continue to grow, you can probably expect to see the cases worked by unions like Nautilus grow too.”
Image Credit: Nautilus International from the Monaco Yacht Show, 2019.