The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has welcomed a decision by Australian authorities to detain the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Xing Ning Hai in Devonport over hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.
The 180m vessel has unloaded its cargo of gypsum but has been detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) after the recent discovery in the United States that the 22 Chinese nationals onboard are owed more than $250,000USD.
The shipowners had promised to pay the full amount of back pay owed upon leaving the United States but serious questions remain over whether the full amount has been paid.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has twice inspected the vessel this week to investigate the outstanding wages, while Hong Kong authorities have arrived in Australia for a joint inspection with AMSA.
ITF Australian Co-ordinator Dean Summers said the vessel may be moved to another berth while the detention is ongoing and the ship could be suspended from operating on the Australian coast.
“The ITF has sent a stern message the ship owner advising that we will proceed along the grounds that he will need to pay the crew in cash in an Australian Port in ITF presence as we do not trust the company to act in good faith,” Summers said.
“Sadly, international shipping can be a murky industry, full of opaque ownership structures and a failure to meet proper environmental, safety and human rights standards and these Chinese seafarers are victims of that system.”
This incident comes just days after the three year anniversary of the departure of Tasmania’s last Australian-crewed fuel tanker, the Alexander Spirit.
The Alexander Spirit infamously sat for three weeks in Devonport in July 2015, with the Australian crew refusing to sail because land-based workers told them they would be sacked and replaced by an exploited foreign crew at the next port destination of Singapore.
Many of the workers from the Alexander Spirit still haven’t found work and they have absolutely no hope of finding a job as seafarers if the Turnbull Government’s deregulation of coastal shipping goes ahead.
A report by the Australia Institute into the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s coastal shipping legislation, which is listed for debate in the Parliament, estimates that only 88 Australian seafarer jobs would remain across the country if that legislation is passed.
“The solution is simple – we need to support Australian jobs. We should be growing our domestic shipping industry not cutting it. Aussie seafarers live here, work here, pay tax here and support our local communities,” MUA Tasmanian Branch Secretary Jason Campbell said.
“The voters of Braddon deserve to know who will stand up for Australian seafarers. When he was Member for Braddon in 2015, Brett Whiteley failed to stand up for the workers on board the Alexander Spirit. We have no doubt that given the chance, he would fail to stand up for Aussie seafarers again.”