Nautilus/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy has raised concerns over a 'cycle of abuse' occurring on ships managed by Seaways Maritime International and operating under the Marshall Islands flag.
He has complained about the continued mistreatment of seafarers on four vessels managed by the company – with problems including unpaid wages and erratic delivery of food.
The problems began in June when the 81,800dwt bulk carrier Toba was detained for several weeks following an inspection by Mr Molloy in the Port of Liverpool. He was originally alerted by the solicitors acting for a Chinese creditor who subsequently arrested the vessel for an unpaid debt.
More than US$182,000 in unpaid wages was eventually recovered. Crew had exceeded contract lengths – the captain having been onboard for 18 months – and the food stores were empty when the vessel arrived.
Four weeks later, when Mr Molloy was asked to return to the vessel to confirm all outstanding issues had been resolved, wages remained unpaid, crew had still not been repatriated and the food stores were empty again – all of which was confirmed by the flag state (Marshall Islands) inspector who arrived onboard on the same day. It was another week before the vessel was released.
'I was advised at that time that those responsible at the Marshall Islands Registry took these repeated deficiencies seriously and would be keeping a close eye on the vessel and the company,' Mr Molloy said. 'However, the situation did not improve and the company continue to operate in the same way as always.
'I was contacted on 9 October by crew from China informing me they had not been paid since they left Liverpool and at least three had completed their contracts,' Mr Molloy added. 'They had requested repatriation but it hadn't materialised. One crew member was set to lose his place at college for exams and one year of study if he didn't get home on time at the end of October.
'The vessel was headed for Australia and ITF Australia wrote to the company advising them to rectify matters before or on arrival. Port state control was also alerted. The company then changed the port of destination to Adang Bay, Indonesia – ETA 23-24 October – for a cargo of coal which the crew were told was for Argentina. The consequences of this in terms of the further delay to repatriations were not acceptable.'
Not long after this vessel left Liverpool, the ITF was contacted on 8 August to assist the crew of another of the company's vessels – Olivia R – who were in a similar situation in New Orleans: wages not paid for three to four months and repatriation almost five months overdue. The Marshall Islands register was again informed and acknowledged it was aware of the case.
It took ITF and their lawyers in New Orleans to recover the wages and secure repatriation.
'Meanwhile, on 12 October I dealt with another of the company's vessels – Ben Nevis – also in the Port of Liverpool,' Mr Molloy said. 'They paid crew three to five months outstanding wages (allotments) on the way in to Liverpool; paid all crew US$250 cash when the vessel berthed and after the same superintendent who dealt with Toba had boarded (this was the first time the crew had received cash in five months); repatriated two crew members with expired contracts before I arrived and had food stores delivered just after arriving. They had not paid September allotments. I had to advise the company they needed to be paid before the vessel departed. A further US$29,000 was secured. The same lawyers who arrested the Toba for the Chinese creditor advised the company they were about to arrest this vessel for a client in Brazil if the debt was not paid. It was, but once again the company incurred legal costs rather than pay the debt in the first place.'
The ITF also assisted the crew of the vessel Ben Rinnes to recover US$217,000 in owed wages in Japan in April 2017. They were not paid again until the company was pressed by ITF in Brazil in July, and the crew contacted ITF in October to say they had not been paid since.
Mr Molloy says the authorities need to step up to stop this cycle continuing:
I contacted the Marshall Islands and brought these matters to their attention. They contacted the company and with regards to the Toba they insisted that all owed wages be paid in Singapore and repatriation arranged from there for those who wished it. I received confirmation from the crew on 29 October that although the vessel did not berth at Singapore, the three with expired contracts were disembarked via a launch and were paid and repatriated. They advised that no one else had received wages.
'At the same time, I was contacted by the daughter of another crew member on board telling me that her father had not been paid since July and that she was aware that three departing crew members had been paid. She had been to the bank that day to check whether there had been a transfer. I asked her to check again the following day, 30 October. She replied on 1 November to say the bank had still received no money. On 2 November another crew member contacted me to say wages had still not been received.
'An inspector representing Marshall Islands boarded the vessel at Munda, India on 9 November and the vessel was detained again. Documents onboard appear to show that crew were paid on 6 and 7 October. This is contrary to the information we were getting from crew and families back home. Nonetheless, it seems that for whatever reason all of the crew signed a document to say they had been paid and the vessel was released and allowed to continue on its way. Until the next time. We finally received confirmation from crew and families on 12 November that wages for August and September had been paid.
'Clearly, this company only do what they are required to do under MLC 2006 and flag state stipulations when they are forced to.'
Mr Molloy said enough is enough. 'It now transpires that the Olivia R has arrived in Australia and because no wages have been paid since the vessel was detained in New Orleans, it has been detained again by flag and port state. There seems to be a general acceptance that they don't have to pay their crews monthly as required or repatriate them on time. As long as the vessels can be detained, owed wages and repatriation secured, the vessels can be released to continue on their way in the certain knowledge that the cycle will continue and they will be detained again at some stage in the future. Personally, I don't think that's good enough.'