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Issue #1702      September 16, 2015

Two Ships of Shame in two days

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is concerned about an increase in seafarer exploitation in Australian waters after another ship’s crew has claimed they have been denied fresh food, water and wages.

The allegations of mistreatment – from a crew berthed in Esperance, Western Australia – came last week, just one day after it was discovered a crew aboard a bulk carrier in Newcastle, NSW had endured similar abuses.

The ship in question is a grain carrier, the MV Apellis, and it is referred to as a Flag-of-Convenience (FOC) – in that it has Greek owners, is registered in Panama and is crewed by a mix of Indonesians and Ukrainians. FOC is a method used to avoid tax, safety and labour regulations, according to the ITF.

ITF assistant national coordinator Matt Purcell said he was calling on the regulatory body, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, to detain the ship under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) – an international treaty Australia has ratified.

Last week a volunteer ITF inspector boarded the ship to meet with the crew and determine whether their complaints were valid.

“The person we sent up the gangway was distressed by what he saw and said the crew were fearful of repercussions,” Mr Purcell said.

“Food and water is being rationed, which as well as being an outright contravention of MLC, it’s also inhumane.

“We have one crewmember, the steward on $200-a-month, another, the chief engineer, claims he hasn’t received a single cent in eight months. The majority of the crew just want to go home to their families after their ordeal.

“There is also a concern that there is not enough stores to sustain the crew on their scheduled voyage to Indonesia.”

ITF president Paddy Crumlin said he was worried there would be an increase in these incidents of exploitation as the Abbott government moved towards further relaxing shipping regulation, through amendments to the Coastal Trading Act.

“In an already shady industry there’s a further race-to-the-bottom as international freight rates drop,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Therefore we get these greedy ship owners and operators trying to save a buck by withholding pay and in the worst case scenarios, rationing food.

“Abbott has to ask himself whether he is okay with this, because this is what he is recommending for the domestic shipping industry – a complete free-for-all.”

Coastal Trading Act

The Abbott government is attempting to dismantle the Coastal Trading Act, which dictates that ships trading between Australian ports must be crewed by Australian workers, or pay Australian award wages.

The amendment to the Act was inserted into May’s Budget papers but is yet to be debated in Parliament after it was sent to a Senate Inquiry.

Next article – Genesis of the refugee crisis

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