Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Crew Conditions on Bulk Carrier Heightens Continuing Row Over Flag of Convenience Vessels

Union Claims Obstruction by Mining Group, Ship Owners and Government
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – The simmering feud between the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and mining giant BHP continues unabated with the union outfit claiming that the coal group throws 'veil of secrecy over its operations in Australian waters'. The ITF says a seafarer aboard an 80,000-tonne bulk carrier, the Villa Deste, contacted it pleading for help. The claim is that the starving crew claims to have no food and no on board wages, and are currently being fed on a $4 food budget per day. An identity redacted copy of the email reads:

“Dear itf, This is one crew of mv villa deste we are now at haypoint australia ancorage plz help us sir because we have no food already and no salary. Also the captain is no good the budget of our food per day is 8 dollars but the captain only give as 4 dollars we are hungry please help.. Thank you for ur best response.”

The ITF further accuses the company of continuing to block its requests to inspect the vessel, currently at anchor at BHP’s Hay Point Coal Terminal in Mackay, north Queensland. The Liberian-flagged Villa Deste is owned by a Greek company Evalend Shipping Company SA. The ITF also inspected another vessel owned by the company, the Penelope L on 3 July 2018 at the Port of Fremantle and found the same issues, seafarers employed under the lowest conditions possible with decaying food supplied to the crew.

The ITF claims it has previously contacted the Department of Home Affairs about BHP’s denial of grant access for ITF inspectors to inspect ships at Hay Point. The Department has simply responded saying ‘approval to access a port facility is the responsibility of the port facility operator’ dismissing the ITF’s concerns. ITF national coordinator Dean Summers, commented:

“By dismissing the ITF's concerns the Department of Home Affairs either unknowingly, or by design, has sided with BHP to even further isolate and abuse seafarers’ rights. While BHP ignores a rapidly deepening crisis at anchorage at their Hay Point terminal, and the Federal Government's security agencies deny unions’ rights to access foreign ships in Australian waters, the Greek ship owners go about their business of abusing human rights and denying these allegations in the name of bigger profits.

“The national security legislation clearly endorses our rights to access BHP’s terminal to protect and safeguard international seafarers after the Morrison Government, BHP, and their shady Greek employers have failed them so brutally. The plight of these seafarers, and the failure by BHP to take responsibility for their welfare, highlights why it is essential that ITF inspectors are provided access through BHP’s terminal. ITF needs to ensure the seafarers are fed, their wages are paid and appropriate human rights conditions are in place.

“Seafarers are starving at BHP’s terminal in Queensland, and if BHP continues to deny the ITF access, ignoring these seafarers’ most basic rights to be fed and paid, then it is no better than the worst Flag of Convenience operators. BHP [have] told media that the vessel was not chartered by the company, but it’s BHP coal being sold and loaded onto the Villa Deste. To now claim that they have no responsibility for the conditions on board these vessels when they arrive at their port, to load their coal, demonstrates an extraordinary failure to uphold basic ethical standards in their global supply chain.

“ITF inspectors along with faith-based welfare providers have rights to access ships clearly defined in the international maritime security code and Australia's national security legislation. BHP claim to have a process for access, but continue to refuse our requests and question our legitimate right of entry. We call on the Minister to immediately intervene in his Department's maladministration and facilitate our inspectors’ access to the Villa Deste to answer the seafarers’ urgent call for help.”