The Australian Government has been urged to intervene to identify the owner of 36-year-old supply ship MV Yarabah that has spent almost two months languishing at Port Welshpool, in the South Gippsland region of Victoria.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation said the crew of the ship, who are Indian nationals, have allegedly been paid a flat rate of just $120 per week while working in the port since the beginning of April.
The union is demanding action from the Federal Government to identify whether the vessel has been abandoned, who the owner and operator of the vessel is, what the legal status of the crew is, and how they have been paid such a low wage while operating in Australian waters.
“For nearly two months this vessel has been sitting at a regional Australian port, crewed by a group of Indian nationals who are reportedly being paid just a fraction of the minimum wage,” ITF Australia coordinator Dean Summers said.
“The Federal Government needs to urgently intervene, including by having the Australian Maritime Safety Authority investigate the ownership of the ship, Australian Border Force establish the immigration status of the crew, and the Fair Work Ombudsman initiate action against the employer of these workers.
“Disturbingly, despite the MV Yarabah previously being flagged in Australia, we haven’t even been able to establish which country this vessel is currently registered in, who owns it, or who is employing the crew.”
The ITF said the issue highlighted the importance of an ongoing Senate examination into “flag of convenience” shipping in Australian waters.
In a submission to the inquiry, Border Force wrote that “organised crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit” flag of convenience shipping arrangements due to a “lack of transparency of the identity of shipowners” and “insufficient flag state regulatory enforcement and adherence to standards”.
Border Force assistant commissioner Clive Murray subsequently told a Senate committee hearing last week that “a risk assessment is undertaken for each vessel that comes into Australia irrespective of it being a flag of convenience vessel”.
Mr Summers said the fact that the MV Yarabah had been able to remain in an Australian port for almost two months, without the owner or registration being known, while a crew made up of foreign nationals was being grossly underpaid, highlighted issues of deep concern.
“Clearly, the system is failing, resulting in the Australian community and environment being put at risk by rogue shipping operators taking advantage of inadequate regulation and compliance,” he said.
Media contacts: Dean Summers — 0419 934 648 / Matt Purcell — 0418 387 966