Tanker crew plead to be freed

Credit: Lih-ting Chen

Twelve seafarers on a tanker that has been detained in Taiwan’s Taichung port are openly pleading to be liberated so they can find work elsewhere.

Since 9 November 2018, the seafarers have been stuck on Polaris, a 1985-built 6,769 dwt products tanker. That day, Polaris was en route to Ishigakijima, Japan, when Port State Control authorities inspected the vessel near Taichung. In May 2018, Polaris was apparently photographed being allegedly involved in ship-to-ship oil transfers with a North Korean vessel, in alleged breach of United Nations sanctions. This is said to have resulted in the deregistration of the vessel from the Dominican flag registry on 4 November 2018. When the vessel was inspected in Taichung, it was found to not only have been removed from the Dominican registry, but also had several deficiencies on the vessel.

Taiwan’s Maritime Port Bureau explained that besides not having a flag state, due to the deficiencies that contravened Port State Control requirements, the tanker cannot leave Taichung until the deficiencies are rectified. Although the vessel owner, Rise Loyal Corp, a Hong Kong-incorporated entity, had applied to reflag the tanker in Mongolia, it has not been able to regain control of the vessel due to its prolonged detention.

The captain of Polaris is a Myanmar national while the next senior officer is a Chinese national. The pair have been given strict orders by the authorities not to leave the ship.

Eight months in virtual house arrest on Polaris have taken its toll on the crew, who expressed their despair in writings on white cloth that were hung on the deck on 29 July 2019.

The writings said “We are not inferior citizens”, “I want human rights”, and “I want to work”.

The Maritime Port Bureau said that apart from the two most senior officers among the crew, the rest of the seafarers on Polaris may apply for temporary permits to leave the vessel and enter Taiwan.