Wages: A Maritime Lien

According to the Panamanian Constitution, work is considered a duty and a right of the individual[1]. In addition to the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, the Labor Code and Decree Law No. 8 of 1998 regulate the legal relationship between the worker and his employer, and the rules of public order that every person within the Panamanian jurisdiction must abide by.

In admiralty law, a maritime lien can be defined as the right of a creditor to claim his debt enjoying a legal privilege. Under Panamanian legislation, maritime liens are regulated by Title IV of the Maritime Trade Law. However, it is Chapter II of this same title, which regulates maritime liens on the ship, allowing, at the time of a claim, a person who holds a lien against the vessel to bring an action in rem, ergo, against the same ship. Specifically, wages, salaries and indemnities due to the captain and crew members of the last voyage[1], occupy the third place in the order of priority established by article 244 of the Maritime Trade Law, giving the opportunity to the members of the crew to claim their benefits and indemnities.

In other maritime jurisdictions, maritime liens do not even exist and, much less, the viability of a seafarer or captain to file a claim against the ship for unpaid wages, unlike Panamanian jurisdiction and its legal system, where they are contemplated and there are precedents.

On a recent case ruled by the First Maritime Court of Panama[2], eighteen crew members aboard the M/V AGATIS, a Panamanian flag ship, filed a claim to enforce their credit against the vessel for the unpaid wages and repatriation expenses to their country of origin, that added up to USD $ 300,000. The Court ruled in favor of the eighteen members of the crew aboard the M/V AGATIS and ordered the defendant to pay each one the sum requested for wages and repatriation[3]. Since Panamanian law was the applicable law to this process and, because the defendant did not appear, the Court took it as an indication of acceptance the claims of the plaintiffs.
The Republic of Panama, because of its geographical position, the importance of the Panama Canal and the number of ships that carry the Panamanian flag, is one of the countries that protect maritime labor, not only creating legal structures within its order to favor workers, but also ratifying international conventions that establish the minimum conditions and rights of workers, such as the Maritime Labor Convention.[4]
For all the above, we consider it important to study your case for legal advice and possible solutions to your claim. For further questions, contact —.

[1] Article 64 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama.

[2] Article 244 (3) of Maritime Trade Law.

[3] Ravi Kant Vishwakarma et al v. M/V AGATIS.

[4] Judgement No. 5 of March 17th, 2016 issued by the First Maritime Court of the Republic of Panama.

[5] Law No. 2 of 2009

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