Repatriation of deceased crewmembers to Ukraine. Local requirements and recommendations

Hard is the life of seamen and, sadly, very often it ends at sea far from the native shores. Ships trade all over the world however experience shows that for some reasons (probably different climate, malaria and other specific diseases) it is from African and Asian countries the most repatriations of diseased seamen to Ukraine are arranged, although there are European and US cases as well.

Provisions of crew employment contracts sometimes vary in what concerns compensations for deaths resulting from injury and illness. But irrespective of the cause practically all contracts provide for the Owners to bear expenses for repatriation of the bodies of late seamen. These expenses include costs of landing the seaman at a nearby port, arrangements for issue of relevant documentation by the authorities of the country of death, costs of a place on the plane, transportation from the airport to the hometown/place and other concurrent expenses at the country of destination.

The money losses are quite considerable as they are. In order not to let them get exorbitant and avoid claims for moral suffering due to delays/negligent attitude from the distressed next of kin serious commitment of all parties to the exercise (Owners, their P&I Club, ship’s agent and P&I correspondent at the country of destination) are essential.

A particular difficulty is to reconcile the various requirements of the country of death and seaman’s native country. We have worked out a list of items that need to be paid special attention to for Ukraine and send it to the parties concerned every time “DIAS” gets a notification that repatriation is forthcoming. However often due to an irresponsible agent at the port of death who either receives insufficient control from the P&I correspondent and overlooks some of the items or takes a position that compliance with local requirements is sufficient and they should be likewise everywhere, bodies either arrive at a wrong airport, or without appropriate documents or without a bag of personal belongings or... As a result indignant families are pressing a local correspondent and all possible and impossible strings have to be pulled to rectify the situation.
Here are the points we would like to bring to the attention of those who may need to help the Owners repatriate the deceased seaman into Ukraine.


1. The primary requirement is for the body to be accompanied by the original Certificate of Death issued by the local authority (obligatory indicating the cause of death) AND LEGALISED BY UKRAINIAN OR RUSSIAN CONSUL at the country of death or the nearest. Otherwise Ukrainian Civil Registry which has to issue a permission for burial of the body would not do same, the undertaker would not agree to arrange burial without the permission, the documents will have to be resent a long way back for legislation and the body kept in a freezing facility at the Owner’s expense.

Once when a body arrived from one of the African countries with a certificate issued by the local authority and not legalised by Ukrainian/Russian Consul we made an enquiry to the Club’s correspondent in that country who advised that previously they had arranged several repatriations to Ukraine without legalisation of the certificate and that was satisfactory.

In our practice that never was satisfactory. The families, who wanted to sooner let their loved ones rest in peace as per Orthodox tradition, just did not raise a row and borrowed big money to pay under the table to the officials who had authority to permit burial. In a few cases we addressed the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and appealing to human compassion of Chief of Legalisation Department managed to persuade him to legalise the documents instead the Ukrainian Consul at the country of death. We would not call these ways easy.

Generally, requirement for legalisation of documents issued abroad for citizens/authorities of another country is not characteristic solely of Ukraine. The general rule of International Law is that documents issued by the authorities of some state have legal force in the territory of this state only. Outside its territory such documents are recognized valid only after their consular legalisation unless otherwise provided by a special agreement between the interested states.

Thus, consular legalisation of the certificate of death is NOT necessary only if death happened in one of the following countries with which Ukraine has agreements on mutual legal assistance in civil and criminal cases:
Albania, Algiers, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechia, Hungary, Korea, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Vietnam, Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Kirgizstan, Russia, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

2. As per local Customs requirements the package of documents to come with the body should also include:
— Sanitary Certificate on Absence of Infectious Deceases.
— Certificate on Absence of Extraneous Objects in the Coffin.

Normally Ukrainian/Russian Consul would be present at sealing of the coffin (should be notified and invited by the agent arranging repatriation) and prepare a certified translation of the above documents. In some countries the Consul would issue the Certificate on Absence of Extraneous Objects himself.

3. It is important that Autopsy, Medical and Police reports if applicable are also dispatched in the file of documents.

4. Copies of all documents (legalised certificate of Death, Certificate on Absence of Infectious Deceases, Certificate on Absence of Extraneous Objects, Autopsy, Medical, Police Reports, Inventory of Personal Things, Airwaybill) should be sent to Ukrainian correspondent’s office yet prior to dispatch of the body so that their compliance with the main local requirements is checked and no unpleasant “surprises” follow when it is too late. Sometimes copies of the documents can be used by the families to make preliminary arrangements with the local authorities against a promise that the originals will come in a few days.


A coffin should be made to an international standard (wooden coffin with zink lining) and its dimensions advised to Ukrainian correspondent for passing to the family as soon as ready. The local undertaker’s offices from which the families will order a catafalque or a bus need to know these dimensions for deciding on appropriate transport prior to arrival of the body.


Rather important is the point of proper Ukrainian airport to send the body to. Very often people outside Ukraine (including travel agents) know only one — in Kiev. Thereby Kiev is in the mainland centre of Ukraine while most seamen, logically, live on the Black Sea coast — in or not
far from Odessa which also has an international airport. Therefore for the families it is usually more convenient to take delivery in Odessa rather than Kiev. Besides, if the family lives in Odessa and the body arrives in Kiev the costs of inland transportation on this section to be borne by the Owners/P&I Club might be as big as the cost of the whole flight to Kiev from abroad.

Thus it is recommendable that the Owners’ agents/P&I correspondents at the country of death request advice on the proper airport of destination from Ukrainian agent/ correspondent prior to arranging shipment.


1. Ukrainian airports will hand the body over only to the person indicated on the airwaybill. Therefore details of the next of kin who will take delivery should be requested by the agent in advance and put on the airwaybill on dispatch.1

2. To avoid lengthy discussions with the families it is desirable that the deceased seaman’s personal belo1gings are dispatched together with the body. Considering that airlines are notorious for losses of luggage it is better if things are sent under a separate airwaybill (to facilitate search in case of need). If they are dispatched under the same airwaybill as the body, the bill should bear an express indication of same.

A detailed inventory of things (personal belongings, documents, cash, valuables) verified by the Master/Chief Officer/Agent should be attached.

3. We often face situations when after the body arrives the family can not locate the original Certificate of Death and other documents as they are not enclosed in a separate package passed to the Customs. Additional urgent inquiries to the agents’ or Consular office have to be made to find out the documents are either glued to the bottom of zinc coffin or put right inside the wooden coffin with the body. Much nerve might be saved if this information is made
known to the local correspondent/the family immediately after the body is put on a plane.


Generally it is important that the Owners’ agent/P&I correspondent at the port of death keeps the Ukrainian manning agent/P&I correspondent closely advised of the progress and difficulties in arranging documentation, making a coffin etc. Very often two to four weeks pass before the body can be repatriated and committed to earth. Information vacuum brings the families much additional suffering.

Ukrainian families like all other families in the world get very distressed at the terrible news. Facing death of a close relative they very often hardly think straight, instantaneously forget that the Owners provided a more or less well paid job that the seaman could not find in Ukraine and refuse to believe it was not a brutal exploitation or a crime that bereaved the family of the bread provider. Hence — sometimes a very suspicious and demanding attitude to the Owners and their insurers in repatriation and compensation issues. Very often ungrounded, as in most cases deaths happen for reason out of the Owners’ control and most Owners respect their financial responsibilities in arranging repatriation and remittance of burial expenses/compensation. However in any case the more information is provided to the family the less grounds they have to suspect something is concealed from them.


Finally we would like to mention that although the Owners’ manning agent and P&I correspondent in Ukraine are supposed to act in cooperation very often manning agents do not receive clear (if at all) instructions from the Owners. In particular they are usually reluctant to incur in the first instance the costs of repatriation on Ukrainian section of the route (inland transportation etc) and try to refer them to the correspondent whose instructions would normally be restricted to monitoring that these costs are fair and reasonable. The families often come to correspondent to inquire about the seaman’s balance of wages, although it would also be a question to be asked via the manning agent.

Sometimes it is a problem for the next of kin (and the correspondent) to obtain from the manning agent a Collective Agreement governing the deceased seaman’s employment on board the vessel. We feel it might be a lot easier if Owners would make a point of requesting their manning agent render all possible assistance to the families and P&I correspondent rather than encouraging the position they should have no part in repatriation, same to be taken care of exclusively by the P&I Club.

We hope the above recommendations might be useful to those who may have to deal with the death cases of Ukrainian seamen although of course our strongest desire is for such cases to as rare as can be.

Updates 30.11.2000