Thursday, January 23, 2014

Flag of Convenience Merchant Ships Commit Offences Worldwide

Union Inspections Reveal the Plight of Abandoned Crews
Shipping News Feature

UK – SOUTH EAST ASIA – Since the Maritime Labour Convention came into force in August 2013 seafarers representatives such as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have had enhanced ability to ensure that ship owners and operators are treating the crews of freight and other merchant vessels in a civilised manner, particularly those who operate under flags of convenience in a bid to avoid legislation. Recently ITF affiliated unions have been conducting inspections in South East Asian ports but sadly some seafarers are still being treated with contempt by their employers, as a current UK case demonstrates.

The ITF has initiated arrest proceedings on behalf of the crew of the Marshall Islands-flagged M/S Isis, a vessel ironically christened after an Egyptian goddess who cherished the downtrodden and bearing the historical name of the River Thames in which she lies stranded at Tilbury, and whose crew are allegedly owed at least $130,000 in pay. The ship’s crew have been counselled and aided by seafarers’ organisations such as the Apostleship of the Sea and the decision to arrest the vessel follows the delivery of a written warning to an Athens-based company, Derna Carriers over its negligence and evasion of its responsibilities. ITF UK and Ireland coordinator Ken Fleming, explained:

“A visit to the Isis by myself and my colleague Darren Procter revealed that crew members had been unpaid for months. On the 3rd January Derna had sent an email to the ship stating clearly that all money would be paid to the full crew by the 7th January, this did not happen.

“Since then, the company has utterly failed to abide by its responsibilities. A few crew members have received paltry payments since our visit on the 7th January, which I am sure was done to confuse the ITF and make it look like the crew were not telling the truth. The situation remains that most of what is owed dates back to the 1st November, some two months and three weeks, and is clearly not forthcoming, this is totally unacceptable.

“I have been advised from the ship that all crew want to go home. The company’s litany of broken promises has left them feeling that no future exists for them on board the Isis, and they have decided to seek repatriation on the grounds that Derna have clearly breached their employment contracts. Given that the situation is deteriorating by the minute we have now moved to have the vessel arrested on behalf of the crew, quite simply no other course of action can now be taken, and the company will have to live with the costs and consequences of its own actions.”

Meanwhile, further East, ITF Unions concluded the recent South East Asian Week of Action (13-17 January). Inspectors and union activists targeted thirty four merchant vessels in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar, all flying flags of convenience, to check for on board crew conditions, employment contracts, safety and compliance within the terms of the Maritime Labour Convention.

In the Philippines, ITF affiliated Unions AMOSUP & PSU along with the dockers Unions led the inspections during the week. ITF Inspectors targeted eleven ships at the Davao port in southern Philippines which handles major agricultural cargoes including bananas and links the region to Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Unions are now following up with owner companies to prevail upon them to sign ITF approved agreements. During the inspections they also attended to individual crew grievances relating to sickness wages, crew having exceeded contract periods and not repatriated back home, etc.

In Singapore a total of seventeen vessels were inspected during the week. Efforts are on to contact the ITF Union in beneficially owned countries to assist in covering the crew on board these vessels with regulated collective agreements. Inspection teams also visited Australian flagged Pacific Raider 4, a fishing vessel which has lain abandoned since September 2013. Of the original 16 Indonesian and Vietnamese crew only 4 are left on board and crew wages have not been paid since December 2012.

In Indonesia, action was subdued as adverse weather conditions with heavy flooding in Jakarta prevented access to the Tanjong Priok port. Only six vessels could be inspected and similarly in Thailand, in spite of preparations, due to political tensions in and around Bangkok, the week of action activities had to be abandoned at the last moment in consultation with the participating Unions. Commenting on the action week programme, Sangam Tripathy, Assistant Regional Secretary, ITF Asia Pacific said:

"This week’s action helped identify many German owned vessels trading in the region without ITF approved agreements on board for the crew. Some of these ships had never been inspected before. We hope to follow up with the concerned companies so that they sign up their vessels with ITF approved agreements regulating work and wage conditions.”  

Photo: The Isis lays abandoned by her owners