Another ship banned from Australia, a third detained

Unison Jasper detained in Newcastle, Australia, after breaches to MLC were found. Credit: MCLEOD, GARY

Australia has banned a second vessel from its ports in one week, with a third bulker detained for Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) breaches.

After announcing a blitz on container ship stowage inspections for August, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) ended July with a blitz on bulk carriers.

First, the Agia Sofia was banned from Australian ports for six months on 27 July, followed by the Hamburg on 30 July, and 31 July the Unison Jasper was detained in Newcastle. All three vessels were found in breach of the MLC.

The Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Unison Jasper was held in Kooragang Island, Newcastle, over serious seafarer abuses, including failure to repatriate crew.

“It’s just a detention at this stage,” an AMSA spokesperson told SAS.  “But we are not ruling anything else out”.

An AMSA inspector boarded the vessel following union claims the seafarers were intimidated, underpaid, and forced to sail for 14 months without repatriation.

The vessel is currently working the Australian coast servicing the Tomago Aluminium smelter on an Australian government temporary licence.

“Four crew wanted off,” Glen Williams, Maritime Union of Australia, Newcastle, told SAS. “The old man [master] was withholding their passports. We got them off”.

Williams said conditions on board the vessel were shocking.  The Burmese crew were only paid 30% of their wages, with the union uncovering USD153,000 owing in back pay.

“They told us if they asked for water they were made to pay USD2 a bottle,” Williams said. “One crew was assaulted by one of the officers demanding the money we got them back”.

AMSA said it is investigating the concerns raised by the union.

“We cannot tolerate floating prisons in our waters,” said Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, in a statement. “Seven of the crew members on board the Unison Jasper have been on board for 14 months with no way to get home, with the remaining four ratings on board too frightened to re-join the ship”.

The Newcastle detention follows a 12-month ban slapped on the Hamburg bulk carrier in Gladstone, Queensland, on 30 July.

AMSA said its inspector boarded the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier on Friday, 24 July 2020 after receiving correspondence that seafarers onboard had expired employment agreements and were requesting repatriation.

“Further information and assistance was provided by the International Transport Workers’ Federation,” said AMSA in a statement.

Seafarers approached the AMSA inspector on the vessel claiming they had been underpaid. He was able to collect evidence confirming the crew were owed about AUD42,000 (USD30,340).

The inspector also found food provisions well below standard and galley fridges filthy. “Those crew are now being repatriated after rightly refusing to continue working under such atrocious conditions,” said Michael Drake, acting general manager of operations, AMSA. “We will not tolerate the exploitation of seafarers in our waters”.

Crew were brought ashore for repatriation and the Hamburg departed Gladstone with a new crew.  It will not be permitted to approach or enter an Australian port again until 29 July, 2021.

Meanwhile the crew of the Unison Jasper have been transferred to hotel quarantine in Sydney, awaiting repatriation.