Crew of ship detained in Newcastle taken to Sydney for COVID isolation
The Tomago Aluminium alumina ship tied up at Newcastle because of underpayment of crew would not be going anywhere soon, International Transport Federation (ITF) co-ordinator Dean Summers said on Saturday night.
Mr Summers said the vessel, the Unison Jasper, had been detained at Koorgang Island on Friday by a federal government agency, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, because of pay breaches under an International Labour Organisation convention recognised by Australia.
He said the 11 Burmese crew who had come off the vessel had been taken to Sydney under police escort and were now at a motel starting 14 days of COVID quarantine.
He said seven Burmese sailors had originally been taken ashore by AMSA but the other four, who were "scared" of the nine Chinese officers, had been allowed to leave the vessel as well.
He said the coronavirus isolation was "a bit ironic seeing they have been in isolation on the ship for 14 months", but that was the law as things stood.
He said AMSA and the ITF were being "pressured" to have the vessel moved from the Kooragang 3 alumina berth to another wharf in the port because Tomago Aluminium had another vessel waiting to bring the next cargo of alumina.
"I've asked Tomago Aluminium if they can guarantee that the next ship doesn't have crew on slavery conditions - because this is what it is, slavery," Mr Summers said.
"These people have been effectively detained on this vessel for 14 months and owed considerable amounts of money. They are working against their will. That's effectively slavery."
Mr Summers said he was unable to say when the vessel would move. He said the ship's connections had asked for permission to move it across the harbour with an under-sized crew, and had been granted it, but once the remaining four Burmese left it was not possible, and so the vessel was still at the alumina berth.
He said the Unison Jasper was proof the federal government had no co-ordination on shipping policy, given that conditions were so bad for the crew that AMSA had no problems taking the crew off the vessel, yet it was chartered for the run from Gladstone to Newcastle on a "temporary licence" issued under the authority of the federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.
The Newcastle Herald will update this story on Sunday.
Saturday's original report
A SHIP bringing alumina feedstock from Queensland to Tomago Aluminium has been detained in Newcastle over alleged underpayment and other breaches of seafarers' minimum conditions by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).
ITF Australian head Dean Summers said the ship, the Unison Jasper, had been detained in July in Brisbane but had been allowed to depart after $93,000 in wages was paid to 11 Burmese crew.
Mr Summers said records showed at least $60,000 was still owed, so the vessel had been detained at Kooragang Island, where it just had unloaded its cargo of alumina.
"It won't be going anywhere until this is sorted," Mr Summers said.
FIRST STORY YESTERDAY, MORE PHOTOS, HERE
The ITF and its affiliate the Maritime Union of Australia have long campaigned against the use of foreign ships and crew on coastal voyages that were traditionally done by Australian vessels and crew before the deregulation of shipping allowed so-called "flag of convenience" vessels into the domestic maritime trade.
The MUA's national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the Unison Jasper had been given a temporary licence by Canberra for the run between Gladstone - where bauxite is smelted into alumina feedstock - and Newcastle.
"This vessel - with seafarers intimidated, robbed of their wages, and forced to remain on board for up to 14 months - reveals an extreme form of exploitation that has no place in Australian waters," Mr Crumlin said.
"But this sort of thing risk becoming more common as our authorities fail to properly regulate amidst a global crew change crisis brought on by COVID-19."
READ MORE on the ITF AND MARITIME CONDITIONS:
- MUA slams BHP as its shipowning era ends, 2019
- Singapore trades swap in Newcastle wharfside welding 'mystery' in 2017
- Controversy over CSL Melbourne, on the same run as Unison Jasper, in 2016
- The Herald's Opinion on deregulation of coastal shipping in 2016
- Death of Chinese sailor on ore ship raises security concerns, says ITF in 2015
- Three suspicious deaths on the Sage Sagittarius in 2012
Tomago Aluminium chief executive Matt Howell said the company was "appalled" by the treatment of the seafarers but stressed the company "did not own or operate the ship or own its cargo".
He said the seamen deserved to "be treated with dignity". Tomago was "working with the relevant parties to solve the problems" but the issues raised were a matter for "the vessel charterer".
Tomago Aluminium has three shareholders: Rio Tinto, CSR and Norwegian company Hydro.
Industry sources said the vessel was CSR's responsibility, and the company did not deny this when it responded to the Newcastle Herald's written questions by saying "we are unable to comment until we have established all of the facts of the situation".
Mr Summers said the vessel had been detained with the knowledge of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Australian Border Force.
A uniformed police presence was also visible in photographs of the scene.
He said the ship had 11 Burmese crew and nine Chinese officers, who had been "intimidating" the Burmese.
He said the ITF often obtained proper payment for crews only for the owners to "force" it back out of them later.
"The ship owners take their passports, they take their seamans' books, which are indespensible to these people," Mr Summers said.
He said COVID meant seamen were generally unable to leave the wharf wherever they tied up. The Unison Jasper crew were "forced" to sign contract extensions beyond the International Maritime Convention limit of 11 months at sea.
He said the ship was a "flag of convenience" vessel flagged in Hong Kong with Taiwanese ownership.
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