Cyprus' top shipping official has spoken of his concerns over the continued criminalisation of captains following the release of a Polish master in Mexico in a long-running drugs case.

The comments by shipping deputy minister Vassilios Demetriades came after Captain Andrzej Lasota, 63, was freed after 20 months in jail following his arrest in 2019, when he alerted authorities to more than 240 kg of cocaine on the Cyprus-flagged, 32,000-dwt multipurpose UBC Savannah (built 2000).

He faced trafficking charges but the case is believed not to have come to trial.

Nineteen Filipinos and two Polish seafarers had been detained, but all except Lasota were released two months later.

The Cypriot ministry provided diplomatic protection to the master and crew and worked with the shipowner, Intership Navigation, and Captain Lasota’s family to make repeated diplomatic efforts asking for a fair trial.

Cyprus also informed all the relevant European Commission services, asking for their support and involvement.

"We are extremely relieved that Captain Andrzej Lasota is able to return to his family after two years of extreme hardship," Demetriades told TradeWinds.

He added the case raises a broader issue, however.

"The basic human rights of seafarers are violated when they are detained for prolonged periods of time, even though they did not voluntarily commit any crime," the minister said.

Demetriades explained that seafarers serving on board vessels can only be held accountable for their errors or voluntary actions contributing to or causing the event in the first place.

Continued action needed

They cannot be liable for aspects which are beyond what can reasonably be considered as being within their control, he added.

"We must continue to recognise and act on the issues relating to the criminalisation of seafarers that this case highlights," the minister said.

The matter was extensively discussed during the deliberations of the 107th session of the International Maritime Organization's legal committee. It has now been added to the 2020/2021 and 2022/2023 biennial agendas of the legal committee.

Cyprus is fully committed to collaborating with the IMO and other relevant bodies to make global progress on the issue, Demetriades said.