Canadian Inspectors Help Get Trapped Burmese Crew Back Home

September 23, 2020


After 16 months on board the MV Lake Erie in the midst of a Pandemic, 9 Burmese crew members are finally able to go home.


MONTREAL, QC – September 23, 2020 – The ongoing crew change crisis currently impacting seafarers around the world is highlighting a humanitarian crisis that organizations like the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations are trying to put a stop to. Seafarers are being forced by companies to extend their contracts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is seeing some crews being trapped on their vessels, forced to work for up to 17 months.

Recently, ITF Inspectors in Canada, Vince Giannopoulos (Seafarers’ International Union of Canada) and Karl Risser (Unifor), were able to secure repatriation for 9 Burmese seafarers that were forced to extend their contracts on board the MV Lake Erie, putting them on board for 16 months. Due to many factors, including a complex situation in their home country of Myanmar where airports were closed to commercial flights, they’ve been repeatedly refused repatriation around the world, and have not been ashore since February. The crew was refused the right to repatriation in Turkey, Norway, Gibraltar, the United Kingdom twice, and were then promised if they sailed to Montreal they could sign off at arrival in Canada.

“What this crew experienced on board for so long is the same thing that many crews around the world are now experiencing as a result of the Pandemic. Companies are taking advantage of the situation, and are putting workers is an unfair and inhumane position. It is no way to live,” stated Giannopoulos.

Upon sailing to Montreal in August, the company claimed that the crew needed to extend their contracts even further to avoid problems with U.S. Customs, even though no such extension was needed. The company then told the crew to sail to Ashtabula and Burns Harbor before returning to Montreal. For nearly two weeks, the vessel suffered from severe food shortages, with the captain of the ship refusing to order provisions in the American ports because he claimed that food was too expensive.

With the crew again told that the ship had to continue on to the port of Barcelona before they could disembark, ITF Inspector Vince Giannopoulos and officials with Transport Canada boarded the vessel in Montreal and found multiple issues, which led to the crew being taken off the vessel. The crew has now found relief after 16 months at sea and will be repatriated back to Myanmar after they embark on another long journey home.

“I’m happy we were able to help these guys off the vessel, get them their wages, and put an end to their 16 month nightmare. Unfortunately, this same situation continues for so many crews right now. Something needs to be done, either by government or by international regulatory bodies, to put an end to this unfair practice. This a global humanitarian crisis, and this is just one example of many.”


About the SIU of Canada: The Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIU) is affiliated with the Seafarers’ International Union of North America serving unlicensed sailors since 1938. The SIU has been representing seafarers working board vessels on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, East Coast, and West Coast since 1954. SIU members have acquired the reputation of being amongst the best-trained and most qualified sailors in the world. The SIU represents thousands of qualified Canadian seafarers across Canada.