- The crew of another ship have taken matters into their own hands in a new front in the unfolding crew change crisis.
- Exhausted crew members of South Korean-owned bulk carrier repatriated after downing their tools.
- Crew had been on board as virtual “slaves” with expired contracts and approaching a year at sea.
- The conflict came when the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was tipped off that at least some of the Contamines crew were working with expired contracts.
Seafarers on the South Korean-owned bulk carrier ‘Contamines’ stood up and refused to work further as their ship came into berth in Panama in recent days, reads an article on ITF Seafarers.
Crew refuse to work
Fed up, lied to and exhausted, the seafarers adopted the action in order get repatriated after being trapped working aboard the Contamines for months beyond their original contracts, with some crew members approaching a year at sea.
While the conflict came to a head earlier this week, its origins began in early July, when the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was tipped off that at least some of the Contamines crew were working with expired contracts.
Under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), a seafarer is entitled to be repatriated to their home country after their original contract expires, or they can choose to extend their contact up until a cumulative maximum length of 11 months on board.
Villalón, who is based in Chile, contacted the ship’s manning agency and requested their side of the story. But after more than a week, there was no response.
He sent a second warning and copied in the ITF inspector based in Panama, Luis Fruto. He also asked Fruto to alert the Panamanian Port State Control (PSC) authorites: the alleged MLC violations could be enough to get the ship detained, which could give the crew an opportunity to leave.
Preparing for a “strike“
The manning agency learned of ITF’s plans to ask the Panamanian Maritime Authority to detain the ship, and it made contact and asked for ITF’s help to get the crew home.
Fruto gave instructions for crew repatriation via Panama, but in the days that followed, the agency allegedly reversed course: there were no flights available out of Panama at the right time, it claimed. Instead, it said that it would do a crew change later at another port.
According to ITF, the flight information that the manning agency cited was false. “[The company] decided to act in the worst way possible. They blamed, they blustered. But worst of all – they were trying to keep these human beings as slaves aboard their property. I was disgusted,” said Villalón.
As a precautionary measure, Villalón asked the crew if they were willing to stop working if it should prove impossible to reach an agreement with the manning agency.
- On July 24, the Contamines’ crew told the ship’s managers that they were going to stop working upon arrival to Panama. Within a few days, the company reacted and said they were working out flight options.
- On July 31, the bulker arrived, and the Panamanian PSC and ITF Inspector Fruto were waiting for the vessel, along with an inspector from the ship’s open-registry flag state.
- The flag state inspector pressured the crew to stay on board and wait until Bermuda, according to ITF, but the crew declined.
- The next day, the Panamanian Maritime Authority arrested the ship until crew repatriation could be accomplished.
Within 10 days, the manning agency arranged for a relief crew and repatriated all of the outgoing crewmembers. The Contamines then transited the canal and sailed onward to her destination in Canada, with three labor-related deficiencies added to her PSC inspection record.
“The crew point blank said they will not accept this. They will not take any more lies from the company and its friends,” said Fruto. “This is an important example to other seafarers – if you stand up for yourself, we will stand with you.”
ITF reports that thousands of seafarers have been contacting their union and asking about how they can get off their vessel, and many are refusing to renew their contracts.
However, ITF says that its inspectors can only help when seafarers actively ask for repatriation – something that many are afraid to do out of fear of retaliation or loss of future employment.
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