ITF: Ukrainian seafarers caught in Kharatyan scam, but unions get them home

On 12 August, the International Transport Workers’ Federation-affiliated Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union (MTWTU) of Ukraine helped 6 Ukrainian seafarers return home after they were duped by a notorious fake manning agent.

ITF: Ukrainian seafarers caught in Kharatyan scam, but unions get them home

At the beginning of July, 20 Ukrainian seafarers signed employment contacts through the Ukrainian manning agent Artur Kharatyan, the founder of Kharatyan Crew Management, to work onboard the ships MV Arif Kaptan and MV Rachel Borchard. Soon after signing the contract, the Kharatyan transported the crews to the Turkish city of Karasu, where they were supposed to join the ships there.

The seafarers were sent to a hotel in Karasu, waiting to board for their new tours. But with each new day, the crew did not board their ships. And then, suddenly, Artur Kharatyan broke the contact and switched his phone off.

With no communication from Kharatyan and in a foreign port, the Ukrainian seafarers now found their problems mounting. Their accommodation at the hotel had not been paid, either by the shipowners or the manning agent, and after a while the seafarers discovered they had accumulated significant debts for room and board in Karasu. The hotel owner seized their travel passports to guarantee that the debt to him would be paid off. The seafarers were now stuck in Turkey.

MTWTU First Vice-Chairman Oleg Grygoriuk says that, before undertaking travel to join a ship, seafarers should use the various free websites and mobile apps available to look up the location of vessels and ensure what they are being told by manning agents and shipowners matches publicly available information:

“Afterwards, when the problem unfolded, our union contacted the owners of both ships to find out that neither of them had ever had any relations with Kharatyan Crew Management. Incredibly, the MV Arif Kaptan has been laid up and non-operational for three years already!

For several years now, criminal proceedings have been ongoing against this fraudster Kharatyan for extortion of seafarers, and taking bribes from them. What makes this worse is that the 20 Ukrainian seafarers had to pay Kharatyan to enter the fake contracts, from USD 1,500 to USD 7,000 each.”

In early August, 14 of the seafarers returned home to Ukraine at their own expense. The remaining six were unable to pay accommodation debts to the hotel owner and recover their passports. Furthermore, many couldn’t afford to get home from Turkey.

And the MTWTU asked the ITF for support. Oleksandr Dimchev, Ukrainian Vice-Consul in Istanbul, successfully argued for and won a reduction in the crew’s accommodation debt.

Grygoriuk said:

“We immediately bought out the seafarers’ passports, having covered the accommodation debts. Money was sent to the crew to buy food and basic necessities and we booked the next available flight home. Given the crew had prepared to be months at sea, we bought extra baggage, and ensured they had transfers from the hotel to Istanbul airport and from Kiev Borispol airport to Odessa.

The conned seafarers now intend to join the other over 50 victims of the unscrupulous manning agent Kharatyan to seek help from law enforcement authorities to stop this man.”

By 12 August, the six seafarers had been safely returned to Odessa from Karasu.