Warning signs before sketchy ship's Gladstone visit

NOBODY saw the warning signs in the Five Stars Fujian's sketchy safety and financial record before it was contracted to collect $40million of Rio Tinto's coal from Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal.

The nation's chief maritime authority banned the ship from Australian ports for 12 months on Wednesday in a dramatic climax to a month-and-a-half-long deadlock where the ship's Chinese owners refused to pay the crew's wages, refuel the ship and re-stock food supplies.

Yesterday afternoon Minister for Ports Mark Bailey said Australian Maritime Safety Authority had resolved the dispute with the ship's owners and the ship had resumed its voyage to China's port of Beilun.

The Five Stars Fujian has previously been issued with deficiencies by AMSA.
The Five Stars Fujian has previously been issued with deficiencies by AMSA. Marine Traffic

But AMSA's records reveal it had previously issued the ship with health and safety deficiencies at the Western Australian port of Dampier on January 23 last year.

They related to a defective search and rescue transponder on the bridge, electrical insulation issues and faulty lights on life boats.

Signs of the owners' financial trouble emerged when International Transport Workers Federation inspectors found the crew were not paid in the three months to May when the ship was docked at a Chinese port.

The ship, which was first detained by order of Australia's Federal Court in July over a financial dispute between the owners and another party, was released this month.

"Too often it is the ship's crew who suffer the brunt of financial and physical hardship when international financing arrangements, which they have no control over, go sour," Mr Bailey said.

AMSA detained the ship days after it was released by the Federal Court when inspectors found there was not enough food on board to sustain the crew for the journey to its destination and the crew's wages had not been paid.

ITF assistant co-ordinator Matt Purcell said the saga had exposed weaknesses in Australia's regulatory system, with "big multi-national companies" contracting ships without checking their safety records.

Mr Purcell said the crew had been paid just six weeks of wages since they first boarded in Taiwan on June 17.

But an AMSA spokesman said Hong Kong's peak maritime body had confirmed, under Hong Kong law, it was "acceptable" to pay the crew's August wages by the end of September. He said AMSA could only enforce the agreements signed in the ship's flag state.

The ITF plans to arrange for an inspector to board the ship to ensure the crew's wages are paid at its destination.

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