Seaman contracts and disputes conform to the general principles and elements of contract law to wit; offer and acceptance, consideration, as well as the circumstances under which breach of contract can occur and the remedies to disputes emanating from such contracts.

In order to understand seaman contracts, it is important to define who is a seaman. A seaman is a sailor, a mariner or one whose business is navigation. In its enlarged sense, it entails a captain and his crew. Seamen in merchant’s vessels are expected to enter contracts in writing commonly called shipping articles.


The scope of understanding seaman contracts spans from the contracts signed by the parties to the rights and obligations attached thereto. Onboard, seamen are bound by their duty to the utmost of their ability to serve as crew members. Once this contract has been entered into by the parties, they are bound under severe penalties to render themselves on board the vessel in accordance with the agreement. They are not at liberty to leave the vessel without the consent of the captain of the ship.

Absence from the vessel will lead to loss of wages and their goods and chattels which were on board the vessel to the use of the owners of the vessel and they may be liable for damages for hiring other hands.


According to the code governing seaman contracts and disputes in Cameroon, the conditions of employment have to be defined in a contract written in clear terms and in the nature of excluding any doubt on the parties as per their respective rights and obligations.

According to the code, a seaman contract of employment has to be approved under the conditions that the parties have the liberty to examine the clauses and conditions, solicit advice in that regard, and freely accept to sign.

Seaman contracts and dispute incorporate collective agreements.


According to the code, and in compliance with the existing collective agreements in the maritime sector, a seaman contract of employment must fulfil the following requirements;

  1. Name of the seaman, date of birth or age and place of birth,
  2. Name and address of the shipowner,
  3. The place and date of conclusion of the maritime contract,
  4. The duties of the seaman,
  5. The amount of wage or the formula used to calculate the same,
  6. Particular clauses to govern the seaman contract and dispute, etc.


Maritime employers, particularly those who own or operate vessels are always cognizant of the potential for lawsuits for personal injuries and wrongful death. In the non-personal injury context, utilization of arbitration clauses is a growing trend in both commercial and employment disputes. It is most common to see an arbitration clause in an employment agreement signed by both parties which ostensibly remove disputes from state courts and instead submit claims to privately selected arbitrators under wholly different rules.

According to the code, all litigation born out of the seaman contracts of employment and disputes regarding such employment between the shipowner or representative and the seafarers excepting the captain is brought before the competent labour tribunal. However, there are certain preconditions which must be fulfilled before the competent labour tribunal can exercise jurisdiction over the dispute.

Meanwhile, as regards captains of vessels, their employment/contract disputes are subject to different rules under the code.

In conclusion, the termination of a seaman contract of employment is different depending on whether the contract of employment is of specified or unspecified duration.

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