THE AUSTRALIAN Maritime Safety Authority has detained two Panama-flagged bulkers, operated by the same company, for appalling living and working conditions onboard and for failing to carry out periodic surveys of the ships.

AMSA inspected Movers 3 (IMO: 9250244) in Weipa on 4 March, and also detained its sister-ship, Maryam (IMO 9272864) in Port Kembla for similar issues, including a lack of power onboard.

AMSA director operations Allan Schwartz confirmed the authority detained the two Panama-flagged bulk carriers for serious deficiencies including breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention.

“AMSA has been actively engaged with the operator, Aswan Shipping and flag state Panama to resolve the serious issues identified onboard both ships. Movers 3 and Maryam will remain under detention in Weipa and Port Kembla respectively until these serious deficiencies are rectified by the operator, Aswan Shipping,” Mr Schwartz said.

“We have a zero-tolerance for sub-standard ships operating in Australian waters, particularly repeat offenders and those that breach the Maritime Labour Convention which sets out modern working and living conditions for seafarers.”

Mr Schwartz said AMSA is considering further action against the operator.

“However, it is too early to pre-empt what that may look like with these serious deficiencies still unresolved and both ships still under detention. That is our focus right now,” he said.

“It goes without saying that this is completely unacceptable on the part of Aswan Shipping to fail to provide crew with decent working and living conditions, which is a grievous breach of the Maritime Labour Convention and one that has seen the ship detained by AMSA for a protracted period of time,” Mr Schwartz said.

“We expect Aswan Shipping to step-up and fulfil its responsibility to maintain its ships and provide appropriate living and working conditions for its seafarers.”

Movers 3 in Weipa

The ships’ operator, Aswan Shipping, had failed to carry out six periodical surveys on Movers 3 to check the ship’s compliance with minimum safety and operational standards. There was also a defective freezer room onboard, which resulted in unsafe and insufficient food stores for the crew.

AMSA has required Aswan Shipping to repatriate one crew member, as requested by that crew member; order provisions and fresh water for urgent supply to the vessel; and survey the vessel to ensure that all the vessel certificates are revalidated.

Movers 3 will remain under detention in Weipa until these serious deficiencies have been rectified.

The ITF said the refrigeration situation on Movers 3 had been resolved, but it had put considerable pressure on the vessel’s cook, who resigned and asked to be repatriated to Turkey, he was taken off the vessel and is in a Cairns quarantine facility before he will be allowed to head home.

The remaining crew, who are a mix of Turkish and Jordanian nationals, have each been on the vessel for between three and six months. However, the ITF said they are concerned that Aswan may be withholding their promised bonuses. The ITF is still establishing the extent of potential labour breaches by Aswan towards the crew onboard Movers 3.

The most immediate concern for the crew is a lack of fresh water and food. According to reports, Rio Tinto paid for and provided two small truckloads of provisions valued at about $3000. The need for emergency provisions funded by a mineral giant in the first place, suggests to the ITF’s inspectors that Aswan has major cashflow problems.

Maryam in Port Kembla

As for Maryam, AMSA inspected the vessel on 19 February and identified dozens of deficiencies, including issues with the ship’s engines and defective generators. As a result, there was no electricity or air conditioning on the ship.

AMSA deemed the ship unseaworthy and the conditions on board were in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention.

The operator has been making arrangements to repair the ships engines and improve conditions for the crew. Maryam will remain under detention in Port Kembla until the serious deficiencies are rectified.

The ITF said the 23 seafarers on Maryam could not have showers or flush the ship’s toilets without having to lift water from the sea below in buckets. The ITF said the seafarers’ welfare and mental health were in serious jeopardy.

The ITF said the Port Authority of NSW on 6 March, $3000 of food was dropped to the crew, including 1000 litres of bottled water, with the crew having just a few days’ supply left in the hold. Crew were provided with meals for several days to help them recover from weeks of malnutrition.

The ITF also found Maryam’s crew hadn’t been paid properly. Aswan was paying several seafarers well below International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum wages, and all of the crew had yet to receive bonuses due to them.

Preliminary calculations by the ITF put the outstanding wages bill for the unpaid bonuses and payment of wages below ILO minimums of the crew at US $27,978.50.

The crew had been at sea for 14 days prior to their anchorage at Port Kembla and were granted shore leave consistent with current COVID protocols. The ITF said about US$5000 cash was given to the ship’s master on 17 March. He distributed the funds to the crew, who were then able to arrange to have some small personal items purchased on their behalf.

ITF investigations found nine of 23 seafarers on board were working on employment agreements that had expired on 11 March. A number had been on the ship for six months prior, and some just three. It is a breach of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) for a shipowner to have seafarers on expired contracts operating their ships.

ITF calls for action

ITF co-ordinator in Australia Ian Bray said Australian authorities need to ramp up their pressure on Aswan.

“This company is a notorious offender of regulation responsibility and MLC compliance. Two of their ships are currently detained in Australia by AMSA and they have left one abandoned in Kuwait, along with its crew,” Mr Bray said.

He said the federation wanted the company to pay owed wages and bonuses and honour the two crews’ contractual obligations – including repatriation of those who were over their contracts onboard.

“We want AMSA to enforce compliance of Australian laws, and the Maritime Labour Convention that Australia has ratified. Companies like Aswan should be fearful of the consequences of breaking our laws and violating the rights of seafarers,” Mr Bray said.

“Aswan has now left seafarers abused, exploited or abandoned all across the globe. It’s been blacklisted by overseas authorities and one of its bosses is on the run from the Qatari cops: if those aren’t grounds for banning them, I don’t know want is.”