The Chinese coal ship crew who were left without enough food, wages, or fuel for their return voyage to China remain in limbo off Australia’s east coast.
The Five Stars Fujian has been detained off Gladstone, on the central Queensland coast, by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority since Friday, when inspectors confirmed complaints by the ship captain about a lack of food and wages not paid since May. The ship is carrying about $40million worth of coal.
The parlous situation of the crew, who according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are paid below the international minimum at about US$2 an hour, was revealed after the ship’s release from a federal court-ordered arrest over a commercial debt in late July.
Mark Bailey, the Queensland ports minister, condemned the “shameful and disrespectful behavior” of those responsible for the ship. It is owned by Five Stars Fujian Shipping and operated by MCL Management, both based in Hong Kong.
“No seafarer should be abandoned by the employer on the other side of the globe, let alone be left without basic provisions,” Bailey said.
A spokesman for Amsa, which detained the ship over crew welfare provisions contained in the international Maritime Labor Convention, said it had been notified of money transferred to a supplier to deliver supplies to the ship.
The supplier is yet to confirm the payment, which ITF coordinator Matt Purcell said followed repeated promises from the ships’ owners that had not been forthcoming.
Amsa and the Gladstone Port Authority organised an emergency helicopter drop of 200kg of food donated by the Gladstone Mission to Seafarers on Monday.
The ship, which contains an estimated $40m worth of coal originally sold by Rio Tinto to a China-based commodity trader, will not be released by Amsa until sufficient fuel for the return journey is organised and unpaid wage commitments are met.
Purcell said despite the latest assurances, there were concerns about the immediate prospects for the crew and the financial status of the owners, who he said had repeatedly reneged on promises to pay.
Purcell said the crew were “very uptight, very concerned, unsure of their future”.
“It’s not a good thing to be stuck at anchorage 12km off the coast and it doesn’t really do any good for their morale,” he said.
Purcell said crew of the Five Stars Fujian were paid US$700 to US$800 a month, below the international minimum of US$1,100. ITF brokered-agreements start at nearly US$2,000.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of this for a long time,” he said. “The Chinese [crews] for years have been mistreated and downtrodden but in the last couple of years they’ve started to speak out and they want to be paid the right money, they want to be treated fairly.”
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