Australia bans coal ship for unpaid crew wages

Bulk carrier Agia Sofia. Credit: Geir Vinnes

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has banned bulk carrier Agia Sofia from Australian ports for six months after uncovering evidence that AUD45,000 (USD32,274) of crew wages were unpaid.

An AMSA inspector boarded the Liberian-flagged vessel at the Hay Point Coal Terminal in Mackay, Australia, on 25 July after a tip off from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). During the inspection, AMSA uncovered some crew had not been paid their wages in full for one year.

This is not the first time Greek-owned company Marmaras Navigation Ltd had been caught underpaying its crew in Australian waters. In January 2018, AMSA detained another Marmaras ship, Koundouros, at Port Walcott for owing its seafarers more than AUD7,500.

“Bringing a second ship, Agia Sofia, to Australia with the same breach is inexcusable and has left us with little choice but to ban this ship from Australian ports,” said AMSA acting general manager of operations Michael Drake. “Abusing [seafarers’] most basic rights to be paid for the work they are doing is a shameful behaviour on the part of this shipping company.”

Agia Sofia is one of the three bulk carriers that had been denied entry to Australian ports for breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).

Fortune Genius will not be allowed in Australian waters until September 2020 after a 12-month ban, while Xing Jing Hai is still serving an 18-month ban that goes until March 2021.

Another six vessels have been issued warnings and faced bans, four due to MLC breaches, with some of the crew unpaid for six months, according to the AMSA website.

While the rate of ship deficiencies per inspection is now the lowest since AMSA first published its reports in 1991, according to its latest Port State Control report released in May, crew abuse accounts for the vast majority of ships being denied entry to Australian ports. This is despite MLC breaches being less frequent, making up only 6.9% of detentions, compared with 23.9% for International Safety Management deficiencies.

Bulk carriers have the most MLC breaches (339), but represent about half of the Australian trade. In 2019, AMSA inspected 1,826 bulk carriers and issued 2,938 deficiencies, with 107 ships detained.

Marmaras has reportedly denied the AMSA claim, claiming it had paid all wages and signed an ITF agreement. Agia Sofia is currently en route to Singapore.