Eight seafarers return to the Philippines after more than a year at sea
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) intervened to ensure a seafarer trapped working aboard a ship for more than 16 months finally got his ticket home.
Another seven of the crew of the MV ‘Western Eyde’ have also been repatriated thanks to ITF assistance, says ITF Inspector for Brazil, Ali Zini. Those seven seafarers had spent 13 months on board the bulk carrier. The legal limit in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is 11 months at sea.
Inspector Zini, who is based with ITF Brazilian affiliate CNTTL, said a seafarer contacted the ITF from the MV Western Eyde as it was en route from Canada to Brazil. The seafarer asked for help to get home to his family after many months on board.
Under the MLC, seafarers are entitled to be returned home at their employer’s expense following competition of their contract. While crew changes have become difficult due to government restrictions on borders and travel, crew change is still possible through many port and transit states, including Canada and Brazil.
However, the MLC also specifies that a crew member should in the first instance ask his company, through the ships’ Master, for repatriation.
Zini explains that the crew member had already contacted the MV Western Eyde’s Tokyo-based ship management company Unitra Maritime Co Ltd requesting to get off. However, the management company couldn’t give him a guarantee that he would be repatriated when the vessel arrived at its next port.
Inspector Zini met the crew when the Panamanian-flagged vessel arrived in Paranagua, Brazil, on 30 August. He inspected the books to ensure obligations were fulfilled on both sides - that the seafarers had completed their contracts, and that the company had paid all wages owing.
Seeing how long the crew had been on the ship, Zini confirmed one crew member had joined the vessel in April 2019 in Zhoushan, China. It was now August 2020, and this seafarer had definitely served their obligations, even going beyond the international limit for time on board.
Zini recalls the visit: “When I boarded the vessel the crew was very happy to see me,” he said. “But they were also very anxious to go home.”
As it transpired, the crew were not getting off as expected. The company had told Zini that a crew change was arranged at the following port, instead.
“I warned the manager this was not acceptable and was in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention,” he said.
The ITF Inspector’s warning made the company revise its position.
“After one day, he agreed. A crew change was arranged for the port they were in – Paranagua,” said Zini.
In the week that the crew boarded their flights to the Philippines, a fresh crew arrived to take their place – also from the Philippines.
Brazil is one of a growing number of countries which have agreed to implement the International Maritime Organisation protocol that allows for crew changes in its ports, despite the present pandemic.
ITF gets Turks their wages, home from Brazil
In more good news for stranded seafarers, the ITF has helped the crew of another vessel return home from their ship anchored off Brazil’s coast.
ITF Inspector Renialdo de Freitas says 16 seafarers from the vessel ‘DS Sofie Bulker’ flew to their native Turkey from Santos, Brazil, – but only after securing back their almost USD$100,000 of the crew’s wages.
“At the beginning of August, the vessel was heading to Santos, my home port, for cargo operation. The crew contacted us requesting assistance, claiming that most of them were already on expired contracts and that they needed to be repatriated. Some had been on board for over 14 months.”
The legal maximum under the Maritime Labour Convention for time on board is 11 months, and it is illegal to operate a ship on expired contracts. At least nine of the seafarers were more than six months over contract.
de Freitas said the crew also claimed that the salaries to the months of June and July had not been paid.
“Their biggest concern was to go home. They were eager and stressed because of that."
de Freitas contacted the ship owner. He warned them that they needed to deal with the crew’s issues and get them home.
“I stressed that we had a valuable opportunity to carry out repatriation in Brazil, being one of the few countries that allow, and even facilitates the change of crew,” said de Freitas.
“And I also made it clear that outstanding debts should be paid off as soon as possible and definitely before repatriations, since their July payments were still unpaid.”
“Analysing the previous inspections undertaken by the ITF, we see that there are many complaints about overdue wages from past crew. So I was concerned that the crew receive their wages before repatriations were made and they lost their leverage.”
“After some contacts with the shipowner, I advised that, if the change of crew was not provided, and the payment of July, I would be communicating with Port State Control and the Brazilian labour authorities about the problem of constant delays in the payment of wages and the need for repatriation of crew members who had expired contracts” said de Freitas.
“After a long and tiresome negotiation, on August 22 the owner finally agreed and changed the crew in Santos. He paid the wages for month of July and settled everything.”
de Freitas said that when he met the crew at the hotel they were staying at in preparation for their flight home, they were very happy to see him and thanked him for his efforts.
Once safe and home, the crew sent the ITF emails praising Inspector de Freitas’ work.
“I am the Chief Officer of the MV DS Sofie Bulker” wrote one of them. “I want to let you know that I got all my salaries from the owner side today thanks to Santos, Brazil ITF Inspector Mr Renialdo de Freitas. He never kept us alone.”
“Thank you very much for everything. My family and I pray to Our God for your goodness.”
Another simply wrote “For everything, thanks Mr Renialdo. We received all our money!”
All USD$94,585.67 of it.