Friday, October 23, 2020

More Woes for Japanese Shipping Line as Vessel Arrested Over Crew Problems

Australia is Not a Happy Place for Car Carrying Outfit
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – Car carriers seem to be a troubled mode of transport in the world of deep sea shipping, think back to the millions of dollars in fines levied on the lines for antitrust and cartel practices plus their ungainly stance which has led to vessels overturning, such as the Golden Ray in 2019 and the Tricolor and Baltic Ace in previous years. Now an NYK operated ship is in the news for very different reasons.

Down under is not a happy place for NYK, those cartel fines included one of A$25 million for the Japanese car carrier, and now the Panamanian flagged MV Metis Leader has been stopped whilst ‘slipping through’ the fingers of the Australian authorities at the Port of Melbourne. The crime this time? A number of seafarers on the ship had been working aboard the vessel in excess of the 11 months maximum permitted under the Maritime Labour Convention and vessels flagged to Panama, as well as the 14 months limit allowed by Australian authorities.

Covid-19 has made the transfer of crew difficult but many, such as the maritime unions, have lobbied hard to ensure the crews were able to use all avenues to join or leave vessels during the crisis. Until 14 September Panama allowed a ship owner to request consideration of 3 month contract extensions on vessels flagged to their registry by 3 months on top of the 11 months provided by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC)

Ater that date, Panamanian authorities have only been considering and granting extensions to exceptional cases. Without an extension, a Panamanian-flagged ship must not have crew on board in excess of the 11 months allowed in the MLC. Even when extensions are granted, they are typically conditional ship owners need having a demonstrable plan in place for the repatriation of seafarers on board. The extension period should be used to get seafarers home and replaced by fresh crew

From 1 October Australia set the ‘maximum period of shipboard service for seafarers during COVID-19 pandemic’ as a ‘maximum continuous period of 14 months’ for vessels entering its waters. This week International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) officials revealed that at the time of the ship’s arrest there were three seafarers aboard for more than 15 months, including the ship’s captain, two aboard for 14 months plus five more on the verge of 12 months working aboard.

ITF Assistant Coordinator for Australia, Matt Purcell said the ship owner’s agents, Japanese manning companies World Marine Company and WSS Shipping Agencies, attempted to stop union inspectors from coming aboard to inspect the welfare of the crew and assist in rescuing the crew from the situation. He said agents tried to use Covid-19 as an excuse to stop him coming aboard, despite the fact that in the same day Victoria had recorded just two new cases from a population of almost five million people, continuing:

The company tried to block us from coming aboard the ship and putting an end to them keeping these seafarers against their will. Clearly the company didn’t want us to learn the full extent of their deception of this vulnerable crew and their plans to carry on this forced labour charade into another month. Keeping seafarers working aboard a ship for this long is both in violation of their rights and a recipe for human and environmental disaster.

“All workers have a right to stop working upon completion of the contracts the initially signed up for. To deny any seafarer the ability to get off a ship and go home to their families, means that they are forced to keep working. What has happened here could give rise to a situation of forced labour. We believe the intention of the Japanese owners of the ship, NYK, was to slip through Melbourne undetected and sail to Jakarta with yet another promise to the crew that they would be returned home to their families at the next port.

“Following the detention of the vessel by Australian Maritime Safety Authority at our urging, five crew will be repatriated from Melbourne to the Philippines, including the captain and a number of engineers. The ship is not permitted to leave port until the company gets these tired and fatigued seafarers home and replaced by fresh crew.”

Under the terms of the ITF contracts which cover the ship the inspector had an absolute right to demand access to the crew on board. Purcell said the crew had been told previously that they would be repatriated to their home countries after their many months on board, as the Metis Leader passed through several countries that allow the changeover of seafarers. The vessel had, for example, passed through Singapore, ‘five or six times’.

Purcell continued on to say that the just-in-time nature of importing new vehicles means the shipping company would be losing upwards of US$100,000 per day as the vessel laid idle in the waters surrounding Melbourne. The MV Metis Leader was previously due to leave the Port of Melbourne at 3pm AEST on Wednesday, Purcell said. At Thursday evening the ship was stuck in Melbourne, at likely significant cost to the company.

ITF Australia Coordinator Dean Summers said the case of the MV Metis Leader was a ‘wakeup call’ for the international shipping industry as the crew change crisis continued into its eighth month, and commented:

“Today’s lesson is very clear, if you have over-contract seafarers, if you have crew who have done their time and are no longer willing or safe to operate your vessel, the ITF, our affiliates, and the Australian authorities will arrest and detain your ship until you right these wrongs, no matter the cost to you or your cargo owner.

“Crew change is possible in ports right across the world. We have been living with Covid-19 for eight months now, and so there is no excuse for delaying or deferring crew change. Repatriating crew and replacing them with a fresh team is the responsibility of employers and ship owners, and we will act to see that responsibility honoured for every single seafarer.

“Our message to ship owners, manning agents, charterers and the companies which rely on ships to transport their goods is, if you don’t ensure your crew is changed, we will work to see your ships are stopped and the tired workers operating them freed from the shackles of forced labour. Ensure your supply chains are free from exploitation this Christmas, or we will.”

The Metis Leader, which was delivering vehicles including Great Wall, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru brands, has now seen a replacement skipper and engineer employed whilst the departing crew have left the ship and are returning home, allegedly having been instructed not to discuss the matter with the media.