Settlement claims with next of kin of missed seafarers

Service at sea was always connected with risks for seafarer’s life. Thus compensation claims always a significant part in claims handling. The most difficult claims are claims due to missing seafarers at sea when the body was not found and such cases entailed a great stress for the seafarer’ families and create a ground for various interpretation and complications in the claim settlement. Thus, Shipowners should be mindful of potential risks and specific of settlement the claims with missed seafarers not only due to a great stress for the seafarers’ families but also due to authorities involvement which create a settlement much more complicated . Risks of criminal proceedings and detention the vessel. Fact of missing of seafarer under unknown circumstances onboard creates a ground for commencement the criminal proceeding, irrespectively of the crew nationality, flag and place of the incident. Moreover if some evidence will be found, such as seafarer’ letters, correspondence, etc., in which seafarer asked for signing off before missing, etc. all of these facts entail a negative scenario and may adverse Shipowners significantly. The criminal proceedings may be initiated by the next of kin or authorities on the basis of statement of any person as a fact of commitment the criminal offence. Under Criminal Law vessel might be detained as an evidence for the investigation, witnessing the crew, search onboard, etc. The period of detention is not limited and depends on the investigator’s decision. After commencement the criminal case investigator is entitled to inspect the vessel’s premises, goods, ship’s documents, to interrogate the crew, to carry out a search onboard, make copies of the documents (log book, engine room book, witness statement, etc.). Under the Criminal Law exists measures of securing, including the arrest of the property, i.e. arrest the ship and imposing the ban on the responsible person – Master to move the vessel till the completion the investigation. Risks of civil proceedings against Shipowners and arrest the vessel. The above-mentioned risks at criminal proceedings do not eliminate the risk of legal actions against the Shipowners within the civil proceedings. Arrest of the vessel could be imposed by the court on the basis of various Laws: Maritime Merchant Code of Ukraine, Civil Code of Ukraine and International Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages (1993). Therefore in case of proceedings there are risks of arrest the vessel as a security within the civil proceedings. Moreover in Ukraine exists a legal procedure of acknowledgement as a dead person. Thus person may be acknowledged as a dead person due to lack of any information on his location within three years at the place of his permanent residence. Such term might be reduced until six months if person should be declared as missed under circumstances that threaten his life or provide grounds to assume his death as result of accident or marine peril. The vessel will be considered as source of high danger therefore term in 6 month will be applicable to commence court proceedings for acknowledgment of the seafarer’s death. On the basis of mentioned terms person (next of kin: usually widow or parents) should apply to the local court at the place of seafarer’s permanent residence to acknowledge seafarer as dead person. All documents related to the seafarer’s missing (reports, witness statements, etc.) should be submitted to the judge in due course. We faced with situations when Shipowners requested to settle the next of kin claims related to missed seafarer as soon as possible, i.e. without the official acknowledgement of seafarer as dead person. However in this case there is a risk of extra payment due to additional compensation claims against Shipowners from the side of other family members.

• Master should collect all necessary evidences concerning o the circumstances related to missing seafarer (issue Master’s report, take crew witnessing statements, make photos of missed seafarer’s accommodation premises, seafarer’s cabin should be sealed in closed position till the authorities arrival onboard for the investigation, to provide information about search of missed seafarer from the Coast Guard or Marine Administration of nearest port, prepare copies of all documents for the authorities).

• To start communication with the family of missed seafarer and establish a good working contact and explain that Shipowners undertake all necessary steps to find the missed seafarer and all competent authorities were informed and Shipowners cooperate with them

• To keep seafarer’s relatives closely informed about developments in missed seafarer’s search. Do not ignore other seafarer’s relatives (parents, for instance) and maintain contact entire family

• To familiarize the seafarer’s family with the documents related to fact of missing. Refusal from providing documents entails an adverse effect and allegations from the seafarer’s family

• Prior to the claim settlement of the loss of life (death in service) compensation the seafarer should be officially acknowledged as dead person under Ukrainian Law by Ukrainian court and judgment should be enter into legal force

• To establish a rightful beneficiary of compensation in order to avoid a risk of additional claim from other seafarer’s family members

• All compensation payments should be performed on the basis of duly notarized Receipt&Release.

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