The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) has issued guidance for yacht crew on navigating the current economic sanctions against Russia, which have, in many cases, left a question mark over the jobs and future of those working on Russian-owned boats. While the situation continues to evolve, the PYA is following closely and shares their advice...
Crew on Sanctioned Vessels
The U.S., European Union, United Kingdom, and other countries around the world have placed sanctions on specific Russian oligarchs in response to the invasion on Ukraine. This means that Russian-owned yachts in these territories, whose owner or owner companies have been personally sanctioned, can potentially be seized. But what does this mean for crew?
What the PYA says: “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, after an uncertain period, be required by the local port state officials to leave the vessel, which would then become a ‘Navire Désarme.'"
Moving the Yacht
There have been multiple reports that yachts tied to sanctioned Russian owners have left Europe in the direction of “safe havens” to avoid economic sanctions by the European Union and U.S. government. According to the PYA, a number of crew have reached out to the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry office to ask about the legal implications of moving vessels from Europe to international waters or “safe havens” such as Turkey, which lies outside of European jurisdiction, and the Maldives, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US.
What the PYA says: “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.”
Leaving a Vessel
Crew on board a sanctioned yacht might be forced to leave the vessel for a number of reasons: the yacht may be arrested by local law enforcement, the owner may be unable to pay for salaries or provisioning, or the management company could dismiss the crew entirely.
What the PYA says: "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 need to return home and apply for a new job from there. Non-US crew on a sanctioned vessel in a US port should, if required to leave such vessel, leave 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 are advised to return home "as soon as possible by any means."
In order to return home, there will be repatriation costs. These should be covered by the owner but the situation is more complicated under these circumstances.
What the PYA says: "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. 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. (In the foregoing scenarios, the flag, consular or port state authorities would then have the option to recover costs from the insuring entity)."
Recovering Unpaid Wages
Unpaid compensation, along with leave and other contractual benefits, can be recovered but only after the fact.
What the PYA says: "No pre-emptive action is possible by any port or flag state authority, or by any seafarers’ organization of any kind. In order to protect their claims, seafarers should remain with the vessel 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 working with Maritime Lawyers who can provide our members with further assistance to claim unpaid wages."
If a crewmember needs to escalate an unpaid or disputed wage over the captain or management company, the next step is to contact the flag state. In some cases, the PYA notes that port states may be able to enforce payment, such as in France under specific circumstances.
Member Assistance Service (MAS)
The PYA's Member Assistance Service is free and available to all crew, including non-members, for advice on their situation. All information remains confidential unless a resolution requires court action.
Useful contact details
PYA’s Member Assistance Service (MAS): firstname.lastname@example.org
French Mediterranean Coastguard & Customs: +33 (0)970278692
Cayman Islands Shipping Registry: France (Valbonne): +33 (0) 489027609
Marshall Islands Registry: email@example.com
Transport Malta: +356 21222203
Red Ensign Group: REGsecretariat@mcga.gov.uk