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Another bulker detained in Australia for crew violations

The Taiwan-owned, Hong Kong-flagged vessel had a string of crew violations and this was compounded by allegations of abuse and intimidation by officers. The handysize vessel had been operating under a temporary license issued by the Australian Government to undertake coastal shipping between the ports of Gladstone and Newcastle when it was detained in Newcastle, the Maritime Union of Australia said

MUA said massive underpayment of wages was discovered when the vessel docked in Brisbane earlier in July, and although the crew was paid the $93,000 they were owed, once the vessel left port the Burmese seafarers were allegedly intimidated by ship officers to hand back the wages in question to shipmanagement

A TAIWAN-owned, Hong Kong-flagged dry bulk carrier is the second vessel in less than a week to be detained for crew violations, this time in a more serious case, with allegations of abuse and intimidation being levelled at officers this time.

The 2019-built bulk carrier Unison Jasper was bringing alumina to the Tomago Aluminium smelter when it was detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in the port of Newcastle following allegations that crew members were abused, intimidated and forced to sign contract extensions that would have kept them on board for up to 14 months, the Maritime Union of Australia said in a press release.

The handysize vessel had been operating under a temporary license issued by the Australian government to undertake coastal shipping between the ports of Gladstone and Newcastle, MUA said.

Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows that the vessel, owned by Taiwan’s Unison Marine Corp, had been travelling up and down the Australian coast since it arrived at Port Kembla on June 9.

According to the MUA, massive underpayment of wages was discovered when the vessel docked in Brisbane earlier in July, resulting in crew members being paid $93,000 they were owed.

Once the vessel left port, however, the Burmese seafarers were allegedly intimidated by ship’s officers to hand back the wages in question to shipmanagement.

Subsequently, another $60,000 in owed wages has been uncovered by inspectors from the International Transport Workers’ Federation in Newcastle.

AMSA put a 12-month ban on Liberia-flagged vessel TW Hamburg, owned by Chinese company Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, after boarding the vessel in Gladstone on July 24 and finding evidence showing that crew were owed about A$42,000 ($30,160).

The MUA and ITF are working with agencies including the NSW Police, Border Force, AMSA and the Port of Newcastle, to have the workers paid the wages they are owed and have them safely repatriated to their home country.

MUA said it believes that the captain is in no condition to sail the ship after himself being at sea for 14 months and that the entire crew should be replaced. 

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said: “What we have seen on this vessel — with seafarers intimidated, robbed of their wages and forced to remain on board for up to 14 months — is an extreme form of exploitation that has no place in Australian waters, but risks becoming more common as authorities fail to properly regulate amidst a global crew change crisis.”

He noted that seven of the crew members on Unison Jasper have been on board for 14 months with no way to get home, with the remaining four ratings on board too frightened to rejoin the ship.

Mr Crumlin noted that exploitation and abuse on ships often occurs in supply chains when those who are supposed to be responsible turn a blind eye, pointing out that the owners of Tomago Aluminium, which includes global miner Rio Tinto must take action to address this extreme exploitation in their supply chain.

“The mistreatment of these Burmese seafarers is not only illegal under Australian law, it is a clear breach of the international Maritime Labour Convention. The companies which are profiting from exploitation in our waters, and indeed anywhere, should be held to account,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Australia needs to sharpen its response to the unfolding crew change crisis that is leading to more cases like these. International seafarers need to be able to leave and join ships at Australian ports,” he added.

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