THE MURKY world of international shipping is again on display via a bulk carrier which has drawn ITF attention over living conditions on board.

The Liberia-flagged, 55,411 DWT geared bulk carrier Eleen Sofia was fixed to load scrap in Mackay and Gladstone for Bangladesh when it was arrested in the former by Australian Border Force last week on behalf of the Admiralty Marshal of the Federal Court of Australia, prohibiting access to the ship.

However, this arrest had nothing to do with the ITF’s concerns but was the result of a dispute between a previous charterer and cargo owner overseas. The arrest was lifted on Saturday afternoon [4 May] and with the Mackay berth required by another ship, Eleen Sofia moved to Gladstone to start loading. DCN understands there were no ‘red flags’ indicated when the ship was taken on charter.

The ITF said yesterday the ship had been followed closely by its Australian inspectorate and targeted for frequent follow-up inspections due to a poor track record for living conditions aboard the ship and a well-documented history of wage theft from its crew.

“The ITF’s inspectors have met this ship of shame at a number of Australian ports to check crew welfare and safety, examine payment records, and enforce the Maritime Labour Convention standards for provisioning aboard the ship,” Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray, said.

In late April, the ITF identified that the crew had no access to food aboard the ship as the provisions had been depleted. The ship’s owner had repeatedly failed to reprovision the ship with basic sustenance and human essentials, the Federation claimed.  Eleen Sofia has a “demonstrably shocking track record of poor maintenance and unbearable living conditions for crew aboard the ship”, the ITF alleged.

“In addition to starving their crew, while at anchor in Bangladesh the ship was reportedly without air-conditioning in the crew cabin areas for over three months, making it impossible for any crew member to get to sleep during sweltering overnight conditions.

“In February of 2024, the ITF became aware of overdue or unpaid wages while Eleen Sofia was docked in Port Adelaide and later in Portland. The ITF Inspectorate was able to fix the wages and lack of provisions at that time but the ship has since left Australia, spent time in other nations’ ports before now returning to Australia in the port of Mackay, Queensland, where the same issues have once again been identified by the Australian inspectorate.”

The ITF claims there are also significant unanswered questions about the disappearance and presumed death of the ship’s cook, who went overboard at an anchorage in South China.

“Shockingly, the ITF is having to fight the company now for compensation to be paid to the family of the lost seafarer, which goes to show that life is cheap aboard these ships of shame and ship owners will do everything they can to avoid their moral and legal obligations to the people who work for them, or their families,” Mr Bray said.

The 2010-built bulker, built for and originally operated by Japan’s ‘K’ Line as Eria Colossus, was sold in 2019 to US investor Oaktree, apparently for operation by Bulgarian company Meteor Management. Early last year registered owners became the Marshall Islands-domiciled Maritime Sofia LLC, with commercial, technical and financial management by Eleen Marine JSC of Varna, Bulgaria. The current head charterers are a well-regarded UAE company, Mideast Shipping of Jebel Ali, Dubai.

DCN understands that when Eleen Sofia visited Port Adelaide and Portland (sailed 20 February) to load grain for Indonesia, earlier this year, no matters of concern were raised with authorities. Following discharge the ship loaded Indonesian coal for China, where it was subsequently taken on charter for the current Australian voyage.

According to Equasis Eleen Sofia underwent a port state control inspection in Tanjuk Perak, Indonesia on 18 March this year and no deficiencies were found.

“The owners of this ship are a disgrace to the industry but they are not alone in their flagrant disregard for human rights or human decency aboard their vessels,” the ITF’s Bray said. “Unfortunately these stories are common, and the prevalence of human rights abuses aboard ships that operate in Australian waters, working for Australian industry and delivering goods for our community, should alarm every Australian,” he added.

The ITF says it is now working closely with the regulators, the ABF and local port authorities in Queensland to ensure the crew remaining aboard the ship ‘while it is under arrest’ (sic) have access to decent, healthy living conditions, shore leave, medical attention and potentially repatriation while the issues with the ship and the reasons for its arrest are worked through.

The ITF, through its inspectorate program throughout Australia’s network of mainland ports, uncovered more than AU$30 million in stolen wages during the last calendar year. The Inspectorate’s permanent team is supported by a network of trained volunteers in every port and targets all ships entering Australia.