Crew abuse, ship safety behind two vessels banned from Australian ports

A ship about to enter a coal port in Newcastle, Australia. Credit: Southern Cross Maritime

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has banned two Hong Kong-flagged ships, Unison Jasper and BBC Rio, from re-entering its ports, bringing the total of ships unwelcome in Australia to four.

At the same time, AMSA has detained another six vessels in the past month for breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), four of these for failure to repatriate crew after their contracts had expired.

“We are noticing an uptick on the detention list for ships,” Mick Kinley, CEO of AMSA, told SAS. “The [pandemic] crew crisis is really testing the MLC and it’s testing the entire system.”

In the case of Unison Jasper, it was first detained in Newcastle on 30 July 2020 for MLC breaches, the ban is for six months.

The bulk carrier had remained alongside in the port since 25 July, after AMSA inspectors uncovered several sets of wages accounts and multiple conflicting seafarer employment agreements proving the crew had been underpaid.

On 31 July, AMSA reported 11 of the crew exercised their right to leave the ship and enter quarantine, awaiting repatriation. The ship was only allowed to leave on 29 August, after a replacement crew was flown in.

Allan Schwartz, AMSA general manager of operations, said the ban reflected AMSA’s zero tolerance for the mistreatment of seafarers.

“Depriving seafarers of their rightful wages, which they and their loved ones back home depend on, is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Meanwhile, AMSA banned BBC Rio from returning to Australia on 28 August for three months over safety breaches. The cargo vessel is operated by JP Alliance Ship Management; it was first detained in Bunbury, Western Australia, on 18 August. An AMSA inspection found 20 serious ship safety and pollution failures, including electrical hazards and a broken sewage treatment.

Its sister ship BBC Rainbow, also operated by JP Alliance, had been detained in Bunbury in February this year for similar failures. At the time, AMSA issued the operator a formal letter of warning.

According to the AMSA database of detentions arising from Marine Notice 04/2020 – crew change requirements – vessels detained in the last month were oil tanker SKS Doyles and bulk carriers Grand VentureBen Rinnes, Agia SofiaTW Hamburg, and Interlink Fortuity.

Hamburg and Agia Sofia were banned from Australian ports for six months in July.