Stranded Vietnamese crewmen express frustration through hull scrawls

Crew’s cry for help on the hull of MV Viet Tin 01. The crew members have received food aid from the National Union of Seafarers of Peninsular Malaysia (NUSPM). Credit: NUSPM

Crew members stranded on an abandoned Vietnamese tanker in Malaysia spray-painted the words “Help us. No food. No salary” on the vessel’s hull after they ran out of supplies after nearly four months.

SAS reported in December 2019 that the tanker, Viet Tin 01, was detained by the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency for anchoring in Johor waters without permission. Viet Tin 01 allegedly transported oil products from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to North Korea in February 2019.

IHS Markit’s AISLive data shows that Viet Tin 01 had called at Sadong-Ch’on Oil Terminal in North Korea’s Nampo port on 27 February 2019, after apparently loading cargoes in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After calling at Nampo, Viet Tin 01 moved on to China, then back to Taiwan, and, since July, the ship had its status changed to “laid-up” and had been hovering around Johor’s Eastern Anchorages.

When contacted by SAS, the National Union of Seafarers of Peninsular Malaysia (NUSPM) said that it was alerted to the 12 seafarers’ plight on 23 June 2020, through a message transmitted through a mobile phone app used by seafarers worldwide.

NUSPM said the first thing it did was to supply water and food to the Viet Tin 01 crew, saying that the tanker had run out of power and the crew were living in unbecoming conditions. Movement restrictions imposed in Malaysia in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded the crew’s predicament.

NUSPM said, “Without power onboard, the crew are also susceptible to insect bites and without food, they are open to numerous health hazards. Their plight is very unfortunate because shortly after they started work, the movement control order (MCO) came into effect, and the crew were not able to leave the vessel either.”

Without salary, the crew could not afford to hire a boat to go ashore and with the MCO in effect, it became impossible to leave their vessel for food or even medical aid.

“While NUSPM tries to establish contact with the vessel owner who has clearly abandoned their responsibility for the well-being of their crew and the vessel, we want the Vietnamese government to exercise its responsibilities as a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention which requires minimum standards to be provided to seafarers and should the owner fail to do so, the government should be able to access funds from the ship owner’s contribution to the P&I club coverage,” said NUSPM in a statement.

“In our letter to the Vietnam Maritime Administration and the Vietnam Embassy in Malaysia, we have also asked that all back wages are paid to the seafarers immediately as they will not be able to gain employment anytime soon, in the current climate of a pandemic,” concluded the NUSPM statement.

NUSPM added that without power, Viet Tin 01 is in complete blackout, leaving all those onboard to live in unbearable heat during the day. Being unable to light up during the night, the vessel also poses a navigational hazard.