The crew of a Panama-registered vessel, Seccadi, detained at the start of the summer by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) at a layby berth at Manisty, Ellesmere Port, have finally been repatriated to their homes. However, the lengthy prevarication by the vessel’s operator, Voda Shipping of Turkey, issues of payment, and welfare conditions on board the vessel suggests that despite their repatriation, there are larger human rights issues to be considered. Trade union Nautilus International therefore speaks of a ‘modern slavery case.’ The Seccadi crew were being paid wages of $0.85/ hour, were owed nearly $43,000 in back pay, had no provision of fresh fruit, vegetables, or meat onboard, and had a cockroach infestation in the galley. When held by the UKBF, the crew’s welfare was not provided for by the ship owner or its insurer, Lodestar Marine, but by the Seafarer’s Centre, The North West Port Welfare Committee, and the people of Merseyside.
The UK Border Force (UKBF) had informed the ship owner of deficiencies and refusals to comply with the rules of the maritime labour convention (MLC 2006), and granted an extension to the original period of stay in the hope of their resolution. “The extension was granted to give the company time to rectify the MLC deficiencies identified by the MCA. These included the crew being paid their owed wages, food provisions being placed on board, repatriation for those crew members whose contracts had expired, proper MLC-compliant contracts, MLC-required wages accounts, etc,” said Nautilus International/ Transport Workers’ Federation’s ship inspector Tommy Molloy. The ship owner also has two other ships detained in the UK for the same issues— Tashin in Sharpness and Reggae in Thirsk—whose breaches of MLC currently remain unresolved.
While the owners sold another vessel in Turkey and began to pay the crew wages on Seccadi after ten days of detention, the issues on the other two vessels were ignored. Given the breaches in rights, UKBF informed the ship owner that all the remaining crew would be deported with no additional crew members from outside the EU allowed into the UK unless steps for repatriation were taken. Molloy noted of the lack of action by the insurers, Lodestar Marine, who failed to understand the realities of a crew effectively abandoned without resources or funds and with a ship owner unwilling to repatriate them. “They say they are ‘a little uncertain as to how owners are expected to resolve and clear the current issues if crew, willing to stay and assist, are forcefully removed…’ Again, there seems to be a total inability to understand the real situation. The crew was not forcefully removed. They were given an extended deadline to remain in the UK by representatives of the UK government. The owners failed to resolve the issues by that deadline and so reluctantly paid to repatriate their crew before they were forcefully removed.”
The ship owner claimed they would repatriate three Indian crew members, but Molloy noted that crew members were all required to pay for their own flights from Istanbul to their home countries, and vice versa when they join a ship—another clear breach of MLC. Additionally, Indian crew members have to pay thousands of Dollars for training and certificates, the amounts of which are either paid in advance or used to tie them to the company until paid in full. Given the high costs of these and the extremely poor wages, Molloy noted that even the highest paid AB on board (at $700 per month total) would be tied for a number of years in a further MLC 2006 breach.
During the period of detainment, the AB was unpaid for the days worked in July, with no confirmation possible until his return to his home country. Additionally, Molloy noted that the ship owner purchased the cheapest airfare available which required ratings stopovers at connecting airports of over fourteen hours with no funds provided to the crew. This contravenes MLC which states that the owner must provide the seafarer with accommodation and food for the duration of their journey. Additionally, while MLC required that baggage allowance of 30kg must be provided with airfare, only 20kg was made available. With the AB only discovering this breach at Manchester airport and without the funds to cover these additional costs, he was forced to lose some of his personal possessions.
Mr Molloy noted that this company were not only repeat offenders, but they are indicative of a larger trend among ship owners, insurers, and crewing agents. However, he suggests the issue lies not only with these owners and agents, but with flag states and authorities who rely on simply the word of the MLC without ensuring the value of the crew it affects. Despite having written to the Panama Register on the first day, no response is forthcoming. “It only sounds Dickensian because it is. In 2017,” he added.
To continue pressuring the government to change the outdated system,Nautilus asks readers to campaign and send a letter to your MP.