NINETEEN crewmembers have left the Yangtze Fortune, a livestock carrier abandoned off Victoria, while others remain on board.

The Liberian-flagged vessel (IMO: 9336282) has been anchored near Portland since September last year. Fuel supplier Dan-Bunkering (Singapore) brought a court case against Yangtze Fortune for unpaid bunker bills.

In December an Australian Border Force officer – acting as an Admiralty Marshal – arrested the ship for outstanding debts. It is currently up for auction and is to be sold by 10 February.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, International Transport Workers’ Federation and Mission to Seafarers have been monitoring the welfare of the crew throughout the course of events.

Thirty-six Filipino seafarers were on the vessel, but as Justice Angus Stewart noted following a court hearing in December, many of the crew were on board to look after the livestock, and “not necessary for the safe custody of the vessel” while it is under arrest.

Justice Stewart on 18 January issued a court order directing the Admiralty Marshal “take all necessary steps” to move Yangtze Fortune from anchorage to the Portland Pilot Boarding Ground area, to allow 19 crewmembers to disembark.

An AMSA spokesperson confirmed to DCN on Friday (20 January) that 19 non-essential crew had left Yangtze Fortune and are in the process of being repatriated home.

“The remaining minimum crew level is determined by the vessel’s flag state, Liberia, under international conventions and are required to ensure that the vessel is adequately resourced to be able to relocate if the need arises, or to respond to emergency situations,” the spokesperson said.

According to the International Labour Organization’s abandonment database, on 19 December the crew were owed two months wages, amounting to around US$140,000 (more than $202,000).

The ILO database indicates repatriation is due by February this year.

“AMSA’s priority is to work with the Admiralty Marshal, the vessel’s flag state and local welfare providers to ensure the ongoing wellbeing and entitlements of the crew,” AMSA’s spokesperson said.

Mission to Seafarers has been working alongside AMSA and the ITF to care for the seafarers while the ship has been at anchor, receiving a grateful farewell from the off-signing crewmembers.

The mission has provided welfare packages, communications and fruit and vegetables and has ensured those leaving the vessel had money for the journey home.

Justice Stewart further directed that, once the crew had disembarked, the ship could remain underway to discharge sewage (no less than three nautical miles from the nearest land, as per MARPOL standards), before returning to anchorage.

Yangtze Fortune was built in 2005 as a container vessel. The 132-metre-long, 4800 dwt vessel was converted into a livestock carrier in 2015 and has been trading between Australia and China.

Australian Independent Shipbrokers has been appointed broker in the sale of the ship.

This article has been updated to reflect Mission to Seafarers’ role in caring for the crew of Yangtze Fortune.