Reed Smith explains shipowners’ responsibilities and seafarer rights in relation to Red Sea conflict


Following the latest developments in the Red Sea, David Ashmore, employment lawyer at global law firm Reed Smith, emphasises the profound safety considerations and intricate challenges arising from the conflict in the Red Sea, impacting both shipowners and seafarers.

He says: “From an employment standpoint, the conflict is likely to escalate employment costs significantly, particularly since the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) officially deemed the southern section of the Red Sea and the strait a High-Risk Area as of December 22, 2023. More recently, the IBF expanded this designation to encompass the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters.

“This designation triggers heightened costs for shipowners, as per IBF agreements, seafarers are entitled to double their basic pay, along with double compensation for death or disability, and a mandatory increase in security arrangements.”

“Beyond the financial considerations, shipowners bear the responsibility to repatriate seafarers, irrespective of their employment status, in accordance with the Maritime Labour Convention Minimum Requirement Regulations. If vessel rerouting, undertaken to navigate away from the Red Sea conflict, prolongs the journey, resulting in the expiration of the Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA), shipowners must facilitate the repatriation of affected seafarers at no cost to them.

“Additionally, shipowners are obligated to repatriate employees when a seafarer is no longer capable of fulfilling their duties under the SEA or when it becomes unreasonable to expect them to do so—especially in circumstances such as the vessel heading towards a war zone without the seafarer’s consent.

“This tragedy further intensifies the difficulties in recruiting seafarers globally. In a world grappling with a shortage of maritime workforce, these safety concerns add another layer of complexity to an already challenging task.”