Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Record Ban for Bulk Carrier After Appalling Crew Conditions Found Aboard

Vessel Operator is Serial Transgressor of Safety Standards
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – Officials at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) described conditions aboard a Panama flagged bulk carrier as 'unbearable' as they issued a three year ban on the vessel entering the country's waters following one of the longest detentions of a foreign ship there.

The MV Maryam was first detained by AMSA in Port Kembla on 19 February 2021 for numerous deficiencies including issues with her safety equipment and inoperative electricity generators. Upon further inspection the vessel was found to be unseaworthy, and the living conditions on board were in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention.

The ship, operated by Turkish (or possibly as reported elsewhere Qatari) headquartered group Aswan Shipping (they are being a little coy, as a visit to their website will confirm), had no electricity, no running water, no sanitary facilities and no ventilation, all of which breach the Maritime Labour Convention. The arrival of one of the operator’s sister ships, the Movers 3 at Weipa, Queensland just days after the seizure, prompted an inspection of that vessel.

This uncovered more unacceptable conditions which, once rectified by April 29, prompted her release along with her own 18 month ban. Meanwhile the Maryam languished in port as she too underwent an overhaul to bring things up to scratch. AMSA Executive Director, Operations, Allan Schwartz explained continuing the finding of ever more faults made for the extreme delay saying:

“Disenfranchised with the operator’s continued reluctance to meet its most basic obligations to maintain its ships and provide decent working and living conditions for crew, roughly half of Maryam’s original crew demanded repatriation. On 28 May 2021 that finally happened off Brisbane, with 10 of the original crew being replaced with fresh crew who had recently completed quarantine in Queensland.

”Over the last few months AMSA and other parties involved in this situation, have had to drag Aswan Shipping to the table to resolve the systemic failures on its ships. Banning the Maryam for 36 months from Australian ports is the longest ever issued by AMSA. The length of the banning reflects the seriousness of the operator’s failures to manage the welfare of its seafarers and the standard of maintenance of its ships.

“Aswan shipping has been conspicuous in its absence throughout the detention of Maryam and Movers 3. This has been beyond disappointing. The consequences for bringing sub-standard ships like Movers 3 and Maryam to Australia are both financially and reputationally costly.

“Our message could not be clearer, sub-standard ships that fail to meet internationally agreed safety standards and labour conditions are not welcome in Australian waters. Aswan Shipping is officially on notice. Any of its ships entering Australian waters will be closely monitored by AMSA and subjected to more frequent inspections as a result of the systemic failures we have found across this operator’s fleet.”

The cases of the two ships was met with outrage by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) which said the 23 seafarers on board were owed tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding wages and confirmed supplies of fuel, food and drinking water were delivered to the desperate crew before she sailed for Vietnam to undergo urgent repairs following the replacement of the remaining crew members. ITF Australia coordinator Ian Bray commented:

“After more than three months in detention, with much of that time spent floating off Port Kembla and Brisbane, the remaining seafarers have finally been able to leave the vessel and fly home, with a replacement crew taking the bulk carrier for urgent repairs. The situation facing seafarers on board was absolutely appalling, with the 23 crew members critically short of food, water, and fuel. The ITF found that many of the seafarers were working well past the expiry of their contracts, desperate to go home, and owed thousands of dollars in unpaid income.

“The extremely poor state of maintenance was also highlighted when the vessel’s one remaining anchor broke free, resulting in Australian authorities having the crew sail 50 nautical miles offshore to reduce the risk of an engine failure causing the vessel to run aground. Throughout the crew’s ordeal, ITF inspectors and local branch officials from the Maritime Union of Australia remained steadfast in their support, providing practical welfare assistance and holding the company to account over their breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention.

“The repatriated crew members have now confirmed that they are safely home and have offered their sincere thanks to everyone in Australia who was involved in assisting them. Australia is one of the most significant users of shipping on earth, with thousands of vessels delivering Australia’s imports and exports, including containerised freight, resources, agricultural products, fuel, and manufactured goods.

“Unfortunately, the situation on these Aswan Shipping vessels is becoming increasingly common, with Australia’s maritime supply chains increasingly reliant on flag-of-convenience vessels, registered in notorious tax havens and crewed by exploited workers paid as little as A$2 per hour. While the situation on board the Maryam was particularly shocking, resulting in the crew resigning and seeking support from Australian authorities to be repatriated home, we are seeing a constant stream of similar cases in Australian ports.

“Vessels with similarly appalling labour conditions continue to be used to transport goods to and from Australian ports, forming part of the supply chains of major Australian businesses. The Australian Government needs to do more to crack down on these abuses, with more resources for inspections, tougher enforcement of Australian laws and the Maritime Labour Convention, and a tightening of the temporary license system for coastal shipping.

“The situation with these two vessels from Aswan Shipping isn’t a one-off, it’s a systemic feature of the deregulated global shipping industry which is seeing a race to the bottom when it comes to safety, maintenance, and the treatment of seafarers. Australia’s economy is built on shipping, with 98% of the nation’s imports and exports moved by sea, which is why the country has an obligation to take stronger action to stamp out the abuses happening in its maritime supply chains.”

For a list of all ships which have been refused access to Australian ports (banned) and letters of warning click HERE.

Photo: Courtesy of the ITF.