Some shipowners are leaving local communities and charities to feed their crew, an inquiry into shipping on the Queensland coast has heard. Speaking on one of the worse cases, where crew relied on charity for more than two months, the question arose as to whether such cases were commonplace.
“It just seems outrageous to me that an international shipping company would abdicate its responsibility and leave it to Mission to Seafarers to feed their staff and their employees. Is that something you have seen from time to time?” Bart Mellish MP and inquiry committee member asked. “Yes, absolutely,” Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett responded. “My grandmother was a volunteer at Mission to Seafarers all throughout my younger years and she told me the stories then. But it has gotten worse, way worse, in terms of what has happened in the last five to ten years and what I have seen as mayor, which is only three years,” he added.
Burnett recalled how crew on board the Hong Kong flagged Five Stars Fujian in 2016, called the Mission to Seafarers asking for fishing rods and tackle so they could feed themselves.
“That is outrageous, and that is happening,” he testified. Local inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, Sarah Maguire, told the hearings that the union had to work with the Mission to Seafarers and the Gladstone Ports Corporation to get provisions and a helicopter to go on board the vessel. “We had to rally community support because the shipowner was nowhere to be found, we do not know where they were or who they were, the crew had absolutely no food and no money,” she testified.
With the local support, especially from the port welfare committee, Maguire said the community was able to organise a chopper full of provisions enough for a week, “then port state control had to step in,” she said. The bulk carrier was detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) off Gladstone, after inspectors found the vessel did not have enough provisions for the voyage and crew had not been paid for several months.
“The ship was full of cargo and the cargo owners wanted the coal so I think this is really important to note, it was not the shipowner who bailed the ship out, it was the cargo owners,” she said. AMSA then released the vessel but banned it from Australian ports for twelve months.
The parliamentary inquiry into a sustainable Queensland intrastate shipping industry continues into April, with the report due on 24 May.