According to the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), which was involved in getting the vessel arrested, three seafarers including the Master have worked over 15 months onboard, two have been aboard for 14 months and five are on the verge of working 12 months onboard.

The maximum time working onboard under the Maritime Labour Convention is 11 months, and 14 months is the maxiimum period allowed by the Australian authorities, under new limit set on 1 October for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Keeping seafarers working aboard a ship for this long is both in violation of their rights and a recipe for human and environmental disaster,” said ITF Assistant Coordinator for Australia, Matt Purcell.

“All workers have a right to stop working upon completion of the contracts the initially signed up for. To deny any seafarer the ability to get off a ship and go home to their families, means that they are forced to keep working. What has happened here could give rise to a situation of forced labour.”

The Panama-flagged vessel, is owned by Cyprus Maritime and managed by Shoei Kisen KK as part of NYK’s car carrier fleet.

Purcell said Japanese manning companies World Marine Company and WSS Shipping Agencies tried to block ITF inspectors going on board the vessel using COVID-19 as an excuse even though that day Victoria state had reported just two virus cases for a population of 5m.

“Following the detention of the vessel by Australian Maritime Safety Authority at our urging, five crew will be repatriated from Melbourne to the Philippines, including the captain and a number of engineers. The ship is not permitted to leave port until the company gets these tired and fatigued seafarers home and replaced by fresh crew,” said Purcell.

The ITF said the crew had previously been told they would be repatriated and had passed through Singapore, which allows crew change with conditions, five or six times.

ITF Australia Coordinator Dean Summers, “Today’s lesson is very clear: if you have over-contract seafarers – if you have crew who have done their time and are no longer willing or safe to operate your vessel – the ITF, our affiliates, and the Australian authorities will arrest and detain your ship until you right these wrongs, no matter the cost to you or your cargo owner.”

Source: Seatrade Maritime