Another Unpaid Crew Working in Australia

Images from Maratha Paramount, courtesy of the ITF.

By MarEx 2016-10-13 17:56:14

For the second time in as many months, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has detained a foreign-owned vessel off Gladstone in central Queensland.

AMSA acted against the Indian-owned Maratha Paramount on Friday after an inspection of the bulk carrier by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

ITF National Coordinator Dean Summers says the captain admitted the 22 Indian crew had not been paid for more than two months.

"Our inspector found that the ship was pretty shoddy," said Summers. "The inspector went straight to the captain's accounts and the wages and found that even though the captain had asked the crew to sign off on receiving the wages, nobody had received wages since the end of July."

The inspector also found the ship was poorly maintained, and the crew was running out of food.

"There was only a very scant amount of food, I think three bags of frozen vegetables, half a bag of rice and little else," said Summers.

"The quality of water was the colour of tea, and it looked just absolutely disgraceful."

Four days after its detention by Australian authorities, the ship's owners paid the crew and met a series of other conditions.

The Maratha Paramount is registered in the Marshall Islands. It was chartered by Pacific Aluminium, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto, to transport alumina from Gladstone to Newcastle.

The Case of the Fujian Five Stars

It is the second time this year Rio Tinto has been linked to a foreign vessel detained for not paying crew.

In August, AMSA detained the Hong Kong-owned Fujian Five Stars with a $10 million cargo of coal. It had been abandoned off Gladstone, along with its unpaid crew, for more than a month.

The crew of 20 had insufficient food and had not been paid for five months.

Emergency provisions were sent to the cargo ship twice before the owners finally obeyed AMSA's order to pay the crew and provision the ship for its journey to China.

Foreign Vessels Replace Australian Crews

In February, the Australian crew of bulk carrier CSL Melbourne was ordered off the ship by police and security guards while it was docked in Newcastle.

The ship had transported alumina from Gladstone to Newcastle for Pacific Aluminium for eight years.

In its place, Pacific Aluminium has used foreign-owned vessels with temporary licences, according to the ITF.

"Pacific Aluminium has chartered a whole range of foreign-owned ships to replace that one single Australian ship," Summers says.

"When we get access to those ships we can find some pretty disgraceful conditions on board. Sometimes they don't even sign up to international minimum standard for conditions and wages, and that's very alarming, particularly when seafarers are hurt or injured.”

The Temporary Licence Scheme

The temporary licence scheme, under which the Maratha Paramount is able to operate in Australian waters, was introduced by the federal government in 2012.

The licences are valid for 12 months, and the number of voyages under a licence is unlimited.

"We're now surpassing 8,000 voyages since June 2012 when the system started," said Chris McGuire, director of maritime consultancy firm Strategic Marine Group.

"As time goes, on we're transporting more and more cargo via the temporary licences.

"We can just look at the number of vessels in Australia. There have been some specific vessels that have left the coast over the last 12 to 18 months, including CSL Melbourne. They're being replaced by temporary licences."

The ITF is calling on resource companies to support domestic shipping. Summers says companies like Pacific Aluminium need to step up. "They need to play a bit more of a positive role and ensure the ships they charter are of a high quality and at least pay their crew and feed their crew, and allow the ITF to check that," he said.