AMSA Bans Bulker Due to Underpaid Crew

Agia Sofia circa 2007 (file image courtesy Five Oceans Salvage)
Agia Sofia circa 2007 (file image courtesy Five Oceans Salvage)

Published Jul 28, 2020 3:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) banned the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Agia Sofia from entering Australian ports for six months due to the underpayment of its seafarers. AMSA also undertook steps to ensure that the seafarers were paid their back wages before the ship departed. AMSA, also noted that this was not the first instance when the vessel’s owners, Marmaras Navigation Ltd. of Greece, were found to be underpaying its crew.  

According to AMSA, its inspectors board the ship at Hay Point in Mackay, Australia on July 25, 2020, after having received a complaint from the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

During the inspection, AMSA found evidence that some seafarers on board the ship had not been paid their wages in full since August 2019. The outstanding wages reportedly totaled about AUD $45,000 (US$30,000).

“Abusing their most basic rights to be paid for the work they are doing is shameful behavior on the part of this shipping company,” AMSA Acting General Manager Operations Michael Drake. “We do not tolerate that in Australian waters and Agia Sofia is now the third ship in the last 12 months to be banned by AMSA for failing to pay seafarers their wages in full and on time.”

The failure to pay the crew constitutes a breach of the rights of seafarers as per their employment agreements under the Maritime Labor Convention. AMSA confirmed the wage payments before the ship left Australia. According to AIS data, the 82,000 DWT vessel had arrived in Australia from Japan and has now departed. The Agia Sofia is reported en route to Singapore.

“In January 2018 AMSA detained another company ship, Koundouros, at Port Walcott for owing its seafarers more than AUD $7500,” Drake said. “The operator was fortunate that AMSA did not ban the Koundouros at the time and those seafarers were paid their outstanding wages before the ship was allowed to leave. Bringing a second ship, Agia Sofia, to Australia with the same breach is inexcusable and has left us with little choice but to ban this ship from Australian ports.”

AMSA is continuing its aggressive efforts to protect the rights of seafarers. In 2019, they banned a Panamanian-flagged bulker for 12 months after finding nearly $70,000 in unpaid wages. They also banned a Chinese vessel for 18 months after it was found that the crew was owed over $100,000 in back wages. In both of these incidents, the ITF also requested AMSA’s involvement after receiving reports of the violations. In 2018, Australia banned three vessels.

Recently, AMSA also announced that it is launching an inspection effort targeting cargo securing arrangements on container ships visiting Australian ports. The program, which will run from August to November 2020, is aimed at education, improving standards, and reducing the number of incidents that result in cargo being lost at sea.