When Contract Ends.

Everybody must see where the advantage must lie between parties standing upon such unequal ground and accordingly these special engagements so introduced into the mariners’ contract lean one way to the disadvantage of the mariners and to the advantage of their employers by increasing the duties of the former and diminishing the obligations of the latter.
Per Lord Stowell in The Minerva (1825) 1 Hag 347 at p.355.

Each and every contract has the day when it starts and the day or event when it finishes. Seaman’s employment contract does not usually stipulate any certain date when it ends, but continues for a certain period of his or her sea service time. Such contract can be for 3, 4, 6 months sharp or for 3, 4, 6 months plus/minus 30 days. When contract stipulates for some "plus/minus" days it does not mean that there is a bigger tolerance to the final date than in contract for let say 4 months without plus or minus.

Just to the contrary, "plus/minus" margin gives more flexibility to the crewing but being incorporated for the sole benefit of the shipowner/management has such a final effect that on the last day of "plus" period seaman not only has no any further obligation under his contract and can leave the vessel immediately (if practically possible), but also can re-negotiate contract if vessel is at sea and his disembarkation is not possible. In simple language the law welcomes balanced contracts, where rights and obligations distributed more or less equally between parties. When, however, one side incorporate a clause which serve to his benefit only, the law closely controls extend of such clause to prevent unfairness in respect to another side. Therefore, when such clause stops to operate, that side which benefited from it, must strictly comply with all other provisions.

In our exemplary case of contract 4 plus/minus one month, crewing must perform crew change by the last day of that period. If for some reason crew change was not done, crewmember has a right to re-negotiate conditions of his further employment, because his previous contract actually does not exist anymore. Important to understand that even if previous contract does not exist, all rights of crewmember remain to be in force, same as all unfulfilled obligations of the owner, such as seaman wages, his travelling home, etc. That happens because all these obligations of the owner are thought or designed to survive the end of contract – obviously final wages and transportation to hotel/airport and travelling home are essential duties of the crewing which have to be performed when seaman finished his service, i.e. completely performed and ended his part of contract. If, upon completion of his service time + one month, seaman continues to work and does not insist on re-negotiation of contract, such for example as payment of double basic until disembarkation, then it is considered that he agrees to continue on all previous terms.

As I mentioned in the very beginning, and like to STRESS again, these notes are not instructions for action and in no way can be treated as a legal advice. It is only an explanation, as good as my personal knowledge goes, of contract relationships between a seaman and ship management company. Last but not least, we are often forced to act in a ‘give and take’ manner rather than boldly insist on our rights, but knowledge of these rights never did any harm. See also disclaimer notes here.

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