Crew allegedly threatened by owners for expressing fears over COVID-19 exposure

Position of vessel Tomini Destiny at anchor outside of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Credit: IHS Markit AISLive ship tracking portal

The crew of Tomini Destiny have claimed they were forced to offload cargo at Chittagong, Bangladesh by the owner and charterer despite expressing concerns over the lack of measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 onboard.

In a letter dated 31 March and signed by all 22 of the crew, the seafarers highlighted the lack of COVID-19 screening of stevedores arriving on the vessel to carry out operations, and adequate PPE for crew. They have claimed that despite airing their concerns with ship owner Tomini Transport, and charterers Western Bulk Carriers, they were told to discharge the cargo, or face losing their jobs.

“We, the full complement of the Tomini Destiny are under enormous pressure, fatigue and mental stress due to owners and charterers insisting to perform shipboard operations under duress,” the master wrote in the letter. “Now we have been threatened with termination of our employment (full complement) or carry out operations under the risk of coronavirus exposure.”

The crew addressed the letter, detailing the owners and charters infringements, directly to the vessel’s flag state, the Marshall Islands, the Indian Government, and Indian Unions. The owner allegedly threatened “disciplinary action of termination of the services of full complement” if crew did not allow stevedores onboard, despite no screening measures being put in place and allowing for potential COVID-19 exposure.

Nine of the crew onboard are “overdue relief”, according to the letter, with the owners having deferred it until 30 April.

The crew have requested that the flag state and authorities intervene to ensure that all are paid their full wages pending, as well as leave wages, and competency certificates are returned before disembarking, which were taken for port clearance formalities. In addition, they asked that lodging be arranged during the current lockdown in Bangladesh and repatriation arrangements made to return the crew home.

The situation is ongoing.

David Hammond, CEO of charity Human Rights at Sea (HRAS), expressed concerns over the situation, stating, “HRAS has had a number of crew contact us about concerns over levels of available COVID-19 protection, awareness and safety, especially when external persons come onboard alongside. We are sure this is a now common issue being raised across the industry.”

“In short, if the failure to seriously protect all seafarers continues unchecked, we may well see our global sea lanes potentially becoming global COVID-19 transmission lanes over the longer term, with resultant disruptions and toll on human lives. At that stage, quoting the MLC will be irrelevant.”

Safety at Sea have reached out to the vessel owners for comment.