“This mob are shockers,” said Matt. “They owe money everywhere. My concern is they haven’t got it. They already owe more than half a million to creditors.”
Crew on board the Liberian flag of convenience bulk carrier Grand Esmeralda in the Port of Geraldton, WA, have called on local unions for help, saying they are owed more than US$140,000 in wages. The 24 Filipino seafarers, from master down, are refusing to sale the vessel, demanding their pay and repatriation.
"They say they fear for their safety if they sail the vessel," said Matt Purcell, acting co-ordinator for the International Transport Workers' Federation Australia office.
The 36,725 tonne vessel, owned and operated by the Greek based multinational Newfront Shipping, is under charter to ship 60,000 tonnes of Australian iron ore to China. But the owners have a long history of ship safety breaches and crew abuse.
"This mob are shockers," said Matt. "They owe money everywhere. My concern is they haven't got it. They already owe more than half a million to creditors."
The Esmeralda was subject to a pay dispute in Vancouver, Canada, in March this year. It was only allowed to sail to Australia after the ITF intervened and the owners agreed to pay the US$70,000 owing in wages and undertake major ship repairs.
"The crew haven't been paid since March," said Matt. "They're worried that when they arrive in China they'll be thrown in prison or abandoned. The company has already threatened to black list them. But it's Newfront that should be blacklisted. This ship isn't going anywhere until safeguards are in place and the wages owed are paid in full.
"This sort of exploitation of crew carrying Australian exports highlights how global shipping deregulation is undermining Australian trade," he said. "Mount Gibson Iron Ore, or for that matter any other Australian shipper should not be using this company in future. It's ships of shame like the Esmeralda that are also undercutting Australian shipping on our coastal trades. With the global financial crisis quality vessels are available at bargain basement prices. Australian exporters should be investing in their own, Australian-flagged fleet."
Adoption of a positive fiscal and regulatory regime to assist investment in new ships is a key recommendation of the House of Representative Infrastructure and Transport Committee of coastal shipping policy and regulation.
Meanwhile WA ITF inspector Adrian Evans is on the spot in Geraldton in contact with the crew on board the Esmeralda fully loaded with iron ore, at anchor off the coast.