'Abandoned': Union wants crew transported to Gladstone

THE union representing 20 Chinese crew stranded aboard a ship off the coast of Gladstone is demanding the Federal Government intervene to bring the crew ashore until the dispute is resolved.

It's a dramatic escalation in the dispute, which has left the 20 crew members aboard Five Stars Fujian stranded on board the vessel without adequate food supplies, fuel or wages since July 19.

International Transport Workers Federation assistant co-ordinator Matt Purcell has also demanded its representatives be "granted access" by the owner, saying "we are worried about the welfare of the crew".

"The Federal Government needs to intervene today, get the crew land-side, while a proper investigation is conducted and the crew are able to access the services they need," he said.

"These are people, not political pawns."

The stranded Five Stars Fujian has been sitting off Queensland's coast since July 19.
The stranded Five Stars Fujian has been sitting off Queensland's coast since July 19. Shipspotting.com

He said ITWF would complain to the International Labour Federation about breaches to the Maritime Labour Convention, of which Australia is a signatory, as the crew had been denied their right to come ashore for "recreational purposes".

The heightened tension came as Hong Kong Ship Owners Association, China's chief shipping body, released a sensational statement calling on its government to act, saying it had a "strong moral and ethical obligation" to intervene.

Hong Kong, a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, has not yet had the agreement ratified by China, meaning companies enjoy a legal loophole giving them immunity to the convention.

"(The ship's crew) have effectively been abandoned by the owner of the ship," the statement read.

It called on its government to assist in the "immediate supply of provisions and fuel, as well as repatriation of the seafarers to their homes as requested by the seafarers".

LISTEN: Gladstone Mission to Seafarer chaplain Russell Cunningham tells of crew's hardship

ITWF said Australian taxpayers were footing the bill for restocking the ship, with speculation rife about the financial situation of the ship's owner.

"So far, the Australian taxpayer has been responsible for looking after the distressed crew because the owners ca nnot be located," Mr Purcell said.

"This unfortunately is a common feature of international shipping, which is riddled with corruption and law breaking, because there is little to zero recourse, even when those ships are trading in Australian waters.

"If that vessel sails in the near future, without evidence that everything is above board, it would be a breach of the Maritime Labor Convention."

HKSO did not comment on the financial situation of the ship's owner but said an oversupply of ships in the shipping industry's "worst downturn in at least 30 years" had seen a number of shipping companies go bankrupt.

An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman said the delivery of food supplies on Friday was "a step in the right direction" but the authority would need confirmation the ship was refuelled and the crew's wages were paid before its voyage.

"Negotiations are continuing between all parties," the spokesman said.



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