The Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has upheld a decision to ban the Panama-flagged bulk carrier Fortune Genius from Australian ports for 12 months.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has banned the vessel after an inspection uncovered that Myanmarese crew had been deliberately underpaid nearly USD69,000. The inspection occurred in September 2019, when Fortune Genius was at the Port of Gladstone in Queensland, Australia.
The AMSA investigation was sparked by a complaint from the International Transport Workers’ Federation. It found that the ship operator, Fortune Union Shipping, a subsidiary of New Fortune Genius Management, had attempted to hide the underpayment by using a ‘double-book’ system, where more than one set of wage accounts are used to cover their tracks.
“The ship had been operating with two sets of wage accounts, one showing the amount of wages the crew should have been paid and the other showing what they had actually been paid,” AMSA said.
In its decision, the AAT rejected arguments by the shipping company to reduce the 12-month ban to three months.
Fortune Union Shipping claimed that it had since made all outstanding payments to the crew and had replaced the crewing agent. Additionally, it argued to have had no knowledge of any failure to pay the crew wages at the time, though did not deny the allegations.
However, the tribunal’s decision on 11 June found the contravention of the Australian Navigation Act and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) “extremely serious and premeditated”.
AAT deputy president J W Constance said he reached his decision owing to the breaches of the MLC, the extent of the underpayment of wages, and the steps taken by those in charge of the vessel to hide the breaches. He also noted the ship’s master did not deal with AMSA honestly during its investigations.
“Eight members of a crew of 23 were denied wages to which they were entitled, either all or in part,” said Constance. “Families of the seafarers were denied their support, each seafarer was underpaid USD8,000 over five months. The operation to defraud the seafarers was premeditated and involved considerable planning,” he said.
AMSA general manager of operations Allan Schwartz said in a statement on 18 June that he would never tolerate ships that underpay their crew.
“Ships visiting Australian ports are on notice that if we find deliberate and repeated underpaying of crew and attempts to deceive authorities, they can expect penalties,” said Schwartz.