Sailor Trapped Aboard Cargo Ship For Four Years
rating: 0+x


April 30, 2021: The article tells the tale of the first mate of a cargo ship that has been forced to live alone on anchored ship for four years. The owner of the vessel wracked up huge debts, and the ship was seized off the coast of Egypt. The crew did not have immigration status, so they couldn't legally disembark. Some slipped away anyhow, eventually leaving the first mate by himself, unable to escape. Even when the ship started taking on water, he was only allowed off briefly while the hull was being patched, then sent back to his watery solitary confinement.

Eventually, he worked out a deal with the police and port authority that allowed him to swim to shore to get supplies, as long as he returned by sunset every night. After four years, significant psychological and financial hardship, and court proceedings, he was finally allowed to leave for good.

The article goes on to say that this is not a unique situation. About 1,000 sailors are abandoned at sea every year, and some of them are stuck in situations where they are unlikely to ever make it home.


Game and Story Use

  • Such a situation might happen to the PCs. If their patron is a failson that can't/won't pay it's debts, a megacorp that considers them expendible, or a government agency that has disavowed their existence, they might be left holding the bag when the local government comes calling.
    • This probably works best as the starting situation that the players have "bought in" on. If you spring this on PCs unexpectedly mid-campaign, they'll start asking about making stealth checks to slip away, like those other guys in the article. If it's a spaceship, and they don't have any escape pods or life boats, maybe you'll get the desired effect. Maybe. In general, most PCs will just see this as a momentary challenge to be overcome by a couple of skill tests or a clever plan.
    • For the "PCs own the ship" scenario, this can kick in when they don't have the money to fix the drive, buy fuel or whatever and are so unable to leave port. Alternatively if warfare or other diplomatic issues keep their ship in port (for example, if their flag state collapses, is invaded or whatever). Hull damage could also start the problem rather than join part way through - whether a surface vessel beached and sprung or a space ship with its pressure hull pierced.
  • So probably better to spring this fate on NPCs, and then give the PCs a reason to visit.
    • A large cargo vessel stranded just off some inhospitable coast could function like a dungeon you have approach via swimming or boating checks. A handful of crew left aboard, pushed to their psychological limits by years of isolation, could prove to be unpredictably dangerous. Mind you, while this approach is very gameable, it kind of misses the point of the human tragedy in the tale. Making the victims into monsters could be problematic.
    • It could be a variation on the Demeter, the ship that Dracula used to get to England in the novel. Perhaps in the modern day, instead of wrecking the ship it just gets caught in red tape. Maybe that traps the vampire on board, so now it's this prolonged horror for the crew who desperately want to escape. They would be hard-pressed to convince the hostile government that they are in danger from undead.
      • On the flip side, if the vampire was offloaded in port, the crew might now be safe because of the water flowing around them, and they might not want to leave.
    • Also seems like this situation would make for a colorful bit of backstory on a cursed item, or cargo man was not meant to haul. The PCs are trying to track where some cursed Mcguffin went or came from, and find out it had once been aboard a ship that has been trapped off the coast for half a decade. If the PCs want to rent a boat they can go out to interview the only survivor of that crew, aboard the vessel he cannot escape.
  • A lot of maritime crewmen are unfree labour even in the modern era - historically unbalanced and leonine contracts and indentures were even more common. This can complicate things even more than immigrations status.
  • Note that an immobilised ship, this one with a cargo of ammonium nitrate, was involved in the Beirut Explosion (although in this case, the problem resulted from the cargo being siezed and impounded). Or there may be other reasons.
  • Interesting that it was the first mate stuck aboard … wonder what became of the master/captain.
  • A stranded ship might form some kind of suburb - although not allowed to leave, the crew might be able to trade with locals (perhaps using the ships workshops if they are at a slightly higher tech level than the locals). Perhaps eventually the ship's bottom goes through and she grounds in shallow water as a sort of artificial island, surrounded by floating shacks and garden rafts. In some waterways, accumulated silt and debris could quite quickly build up to an actual island. Maybe eventually some sort of shanty town could grow up between the ship and the land - some of the sailors marry local women and have children with residence rights and the shanty town and what's left of the ship become another slum attached to the harbour district.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License