Coal ship detained in Australia for USD50,000 in unpaid crew wages

AMSA about to board a vessel to carry out a PSC inspection. Credit: Marex Marigon

Australian port state control detained a coal ship in the Port of Gladstone, Queensland, on 6 September for underpaying their crew USD50,000.

A marine surveyor from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority boarded the Panamanian flagged bulk carrier Fortune Genius on on 5 September after a tip off from the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

“We’ve just detained the vessel for Maritime Labor Convention breaches this afternoon, “ an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokesperson told SAS. “We don’t expect the ship to be released from detention until Tuesday (10 September) at the earliest.”

AMSA confirmed the ship was operating with two sets of wage accounts on board. One set showed the pay the crew should have been receiving in line with their Seafarer Employment Agreements, while the other showed what they were actually getting.

“The crew were found to be deliberately underpaid,” AMSA said.

The vessel will not be released until AMSA is satisfied the crew have received all outstanding wages, the spokesperson added. Some crew have asked to leave the vessel as is their right.

Crew first raised the alarm when a ITF inspector boarded the vessel in port on 5 September.

“We carried out an inspection of Fortune Genius as soon as it docked in Gladstone because the owner has previously been found in breach of the MLC,” ITF Australian assistant co-ordinator Matt Purcell said.

Eight crew members from Myanmar told the inspector they had been underpaid USD8,000 each over the past six months.

“The men reported that they had been bullied and forced into working excessive hours,” Purcell said. “They asked for assistance to be repatriated to Myanmar fearing for their safety if they remained on the vessel.”

Fortune Genius is owned by China-based Marine Fortune Union Company and chartered by the Korean company Five Ocean Corporation to transport coal from Gladstone to Taean, in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea.

The ITF called on AMSA to also investigate the Myanmar-based manning agents responsible for recruiting and exploiting the crew in breach of international law.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin said the incident highlighted the importance of strengthening Australian shipping laws to address the growing use of highly-exploited foreign workers in Australian waters.

“The detention of this vessel by AMSA is welcome, but the current system relies on the efforts of ITF inspectors and whistle-blowers among ship crews to identify problems, meaning countless cases of exploitation are slipping through the gaps,” he said.