Families of detained crew seek help over unpaid wages and legal aid

GS Spring, previously known as Cape Banks, chemical tanker. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) told SAS that it is assisting six seafarers who have been detained for alleged fuel smuggling in China since April 2019.

The seafarers, comprising of five Myanmarese and one Indian, were among the crew of GS Spring, a 1997-built 33,143 dwt chemical/products tanker, which was seized by the Chinese coastguard on 29 April 2019 for allegedly smuggling fuel oil.

ITF consultant John Wood told SAS that the call for help came from the wife of the Myanmarese chief engineer of GS Spring, which was seized in Ningbo port.

Wood said, “The crew have been held at the anti-smuggling detention centre at Ningbo since 29 April 2019. We are informed that nine Myanmar ratings [skilled seafarers who carry out support work for officers] from the vessel have already been repatriated but five Myanmar officers still remain there under detention, apparently there is also one Indian officer on board. The families are obviously concerned about the welfare and status of the crew members concerned.”

The seafarers were hired by Shipmate, a Singapore-based technical ship management company. Wood showed SAS his correspondence with Shipmate, which stated that the crew members’ families have signed power of attorney documents to authorise the company to engage lawyers for the seafarers.

Shipmate also stated that it provided winter clothing and shoes as well as a monthly sum of CNY1,000 (USD145) to cover the consumables expenses of the detained crew. Wood, however, said that the detainees are not allowed to have direct contact with their family members.

He said, “The families of these men, at least those of the chief engineer and chief officer, do not have any contact with them, or with the lawyer who the company advised them to provide with power of attorney. It’s unclear who is funding this lawyer or indeed, if he is actually and actively acting for them.”

Wood added that the ITF is also looking into claims that the detained seafarers have not been paid their salaries for some time. He said, “We also understand that up to and, including July 2019, the company [Shipmate] was paying the crew members their wages, but since then, no payment has been paid.”

He stated that Department of Marine Administration of Myanmar has also written to the country’s embassy in China, requesting intervention and assistance.

One representative from Shipmate told SAS, “This case is still ongoing and we’re unable to comment. The details are private and confidential.”