Repatriation - Does the boss owe you a ticket home?

25 November 2008 By Joanne MacKenzie

A lot of yacht crew say the great thing about working on a yacht is the chance to travel. But what happens when things go pear-shaped and you end up sacked and stranded in a foreign port? Or maybe the boat you’re working on isn’t what you thought it would be and you decide to jump ship? Are you entitled to a flight home?

The return home of crewmembers is called repatriation. There are a lot of different opinions about what it is exactly and who is entitled to it.

Will Kaye, captain of 11 crew on 153-foot M/Y Big Aron, says crew repatration is a gray area. It can be frustrating, he says, if "you’ve just hired a new crewmember and he or she decides they don’t want to stay after a short period. When you are world cruising, you may have flown them a considerable distance, only to have to fly them back again.” No matter how frustrating, however, Kaye says British law is clear: “You have to repatriate.”

Capt. Josh Abrams says a vessel has to post bond for each of its crew when in both Singapore and Australia. This may be to deter a vessel from abandoning crew and therefore putting a financial burden on that country, but also to encourage vessels to follow proper protocol if a crewmember quits or is fired. Abrams says his understanding is that the captain is required to provide a letter of discharge to the crewmember, arrange for their repatriation and inform the proper officials that the crewmember is no longer the charge of the vessel.

Wendy Ulma, captain of M/Y Castaway, says it’s different when it comes to U.S. crew in U.S. waters. “They don’t have to send them anywhere,” she says. “It is typically done out of courtesy.”

According to Capt. Taylor Lawson, whether crewmembers are fired or they quit during the middle of a charter, he says repatriation is the best thing to do. He feels that part of being a responsible captain is, “looking out for the owner’s best interest” and treating crew more than fairly is “relatively inexpensive insurance” to prevent any potential problems that may arise from refusing to pay for crew flights.

Andrew High, a maritime attorney with Fowler White Burnett, P.A., says crew are to be returned to, “either their home country or to another country, which may be the port where they were picked up or another mutually agreed-upon place.” He says the latter could be predetermined in an onboard contract between the crew and owner.

He says in some cases, where there is a breach of contract and a crewmember is fired as a result, there may be reason for the owner to question an obligation to repatriate. However, High says an owner should take care “to make sure crew is not dropped in a place of danger. That can also be a gray area.”

Ultimately, he says, the best thing for owners and crew to do is draft and sign an employment contract before the employment period begins, which specifies the terms of repatriation.