Solution Found for Captain Who Refused to Offload Cargo in Port
The master of the bulk carrier Tomini Destiny who refused to offload cargo at Chittagong Port, Bangladesh, because stevedores might pose a COVID-19 threat to the crew has now accepted a mediated solution for his concerns.
He initially raised concerns with the vessel owner of the potential for close interaction with up to 60 local stevedores who would ordinarily remain onboard during cargo off-loading operations. He asserted his position based on having been in command since September 7, 2019, his first-hand experiences of the tidal waters around Chittagong Port, the general conduct of off-loading operations in the port, the threat of COVID-19 in Bangladesh and his home nation State’s advice.
The master and crew contacted the NGO Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) for independent support and assistance. The Master told the charity that he was seeking better protections for his crew during cargo operations in port.
On Thursday, HRAS confirmed that cargo off-loading is now underway offshore, with PPE being used by the stevedores and associated personnel. Agreement for this approach was reached after mediation by the Republic of Marshall Islands Flag Administration.
HRAS is not aware of any cases of coronavirus reported onboard the vessel, with the Master himself appearing fit, healthy and motivated to complete the off-load task in the latest video call made to the charity.
The charity says the case could be a defining crew-owner dispute in the current pandemic as it raises the key point of the application and weighting of the Master’s authority and the ability to reasonably assert it without undue pressure being applied that could otherwise be viewed as harassment and duress in order to meet commercial objectives. The issue has now been brought to the attention of the Indian Government through the Director General Shipping, the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh, port authorities, stevedore unions, Indian unions, the ITF, the Marshall Islands flag State Administration, P&I interests and civil society.
According to HRAS, while shipowners and charterers continue with daily business undertaking charter-parties for the movement of goods around the globe, the effects of the coronavirus crisis are increasingly highlighting new management challenges and competing interests between commercial imperatives to deliver contracts, and the health, safety and welfare of crew.
“This tension is resulting in disputes whereby some experienced Masters are taking over-riding decisions invoking Master’s Authority (under the International Safety Management Code and applicable Safety Management System) in the best interests of their crew, bringing them in direct conflict with owners’ business interests.”
The charity contacted Tomini Shipping on April 1 and received a representative’s response: “The safety, health and well-being of our seafarers is our number one priority, and our management and technical teams are in constant communication with all our seafarers supporting them and their families as we navigate the complicated challenges the COVID 19 pandemic presents.”