ITF Alleges Welfare, Pay, and Maintenance Issues on Detained Bulker

bulker detailed in Australia
ITF alleges crew welfare and pay issues as well as poor mainteance on a bulker now detained in Australia (ITF photo)

Published May 7, 2024 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive


The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) reports that it is working with the authorities in Australia to resolve a case of crew mistreatment, wage theft, and deplorable conditions aboard a Bulgarian-owned bulker. According to the trade union, the ship is also currently under arrest by Australian Border Force being held at least until May 13 at Gladstone.

The Eleen Sofia (55,400 dwt), is registered in Liberia and controlled by a beneficial owner in Bulgaria. According to the ITF, its Australian inspectorate has been following the vessel and targeted it for frequent follow-up inspections. They contend the ship built in 2008 and which changed ownership in 2023 has a poor track record for living conditions aboard the ship and a history of failing to pay crew wages. A review of its records shows its previous detention was in New Orleans in 2022 when the U.S. Coast Guard detained the ship for 10 days due to safety deficiencies.

“The ITF’s inspectors have met this ship at a number of Australian ports to check crew welfare and safety, examine payment records, and enforce the Maritime Labour Convention standards for provisioning aboard the ship,” said the Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray.

In late April, the ITF contends it discovered that provisions aboard the ship had been depleted leaving the crew with no access to food. They are contending the ship’s owner repeatedly failed to reprovision the ship and that the ship has a track record of poor maintenance and unbearable living conditions for its crew. They allege while at anchor in Bangladesh, the ship was reportedly without air-conditioning in the crew cabin areas for over three months.

The ITF also says it has unanswered questions about the disappearance and presumed death of the ship’s cook, who went overboard at an anchorage in South China.

In February 2024, the ITF says it became aware of overdue or unpaid wages while the Eleen Sofia was docked in Port Adelaide and later in Portland, Victoria. The ITF reports its Inspectorate was able to fix the wages and lack of provisions at that time, but that the ship left Australia and spent time in other ports, before returning to Mackay, Australia, where the same issues have once again been identified by the Australian inspectorate.

The ITF is working closely with the regulators, the Australian Border Force, and local port authorities in Queensland to ensure the crew remaining aboard the ship while it is under arrest have access to decent, healthy living conditions, shore leave, medical attention, and potentially repatriation while the issues with the ship and the reasons for its arrest are worked through.

Australia also has a strong track record of enforcement with zero tolerance for violations of the Maritime Labour Convention and safety issues. They frequently ban vessels from Australian ports as part of their enforcement of international regulations.