Australian port state control detain coal ship over crew abuse

A truckload of coking coal (L) arrives at the BlueScope Steel refinery in Port Kembla near Sydney. Credit: TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority AMSA detained a Liberian flagged coal ship in Port Kembla this week, after an inspection uncovered crew were underfed and had no access to shore leave.

An AMSA inspector went boarded the vessel on 26 March after a tip off from the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

Crew had contacted the ITF complaining they had been bullied, underfed and had no shore leave since they left South Africa on 21 January.

In a video recorded by the ITF the captain can be heard saying the food rations were USD7 a day.

The ITF also found the company had a new crew category of “Deck Rider” on their crew list which “red-flagged the qualifications of all of the crew.”

When contacted by SAS, AMSA confirmed the provisions were insufficient for the 17 seafarers for their journey to Singapore, where the 30811 gross tonne bulk carrier was due to bunker before delivering coal to India.

In a statement provided to SAS, AMSA confirmed its surveyor had also discovered a number of Maritime Labour Convention breaches and ship deficiencies. These included the vessel not meeting minimum safe crew manning requirements, irregularities with the Seafarer Employment Agreements and the crew having no access to shore leave. In addition AMSA found the rescue boat davit was not fully operational.

Additional food supplies were taken on board, however AMSA detained the vessel at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal until the remaining deficiencies were rectified by the operator.

AMSA’s General Manager of Ship Safety, Allan Schwartz, said that the proper treatment of seafarers was just as important as the proper maintenance of ships’ equipment – a failure in either system can lead to serious accidents.

“All ships in Australian waters need to comply with Australian standards,” he told SAS.

“Seafarers live difficult lives often spending many months at sea away from their families and friends,” Schwartz said. “Any vessel which is found to be in breach of the MLC or other Australian standards will be detained by AMSA and repeat offenders risk being banned from Australian waters.”

According to the ITF, the German owners Johann. M. K. Blumenthal GMBH & Co. KG have a record of human rights abuses.

In recent weeks, ITF inspectors in Europe have uncovered other cases of food shortages on Blumenthal vessels, ITF Australia coordinator Dean Summers said in a statement. “Right now, Blumenthal is a priority for the ITF, and we will continue to inspect their vessels in ports around the world to ensure that more than 700 seafarers across their fleet aren’t subjected to these exploitative practices.” 

SAS has contacted Blumenthal for comment.