AMSA bans bulker for ‘appalling treatment’ of seafarers

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has banned the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier MSXT Emily from Australian waters for one year, after finding several violations of the Maritime Labour Convention.

AMSA logo; Image credit AMSA

Following a tip-off from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), AMSA inspected the ship at the Port of Hay Point, in Queensland. The vessel had been chartered by K-Line to load a cargo of coal for discharge in Japan.

AMSA said that seafarers onboard the vessel had not been paid in accordance with their Seafarer Employment Agreements (employment contracts). As explained, four contained ‘apparently forged signatures’ from employees, and five seafarers appeared to have been ‘coerced into signing new employment agreements which had lower salaries.’

In one case, a seafarer had signed a new contract, while they still held a contract valid for a further four months, for 50 percent less pay.

Inspectors found evidence that more than US$77,000 in unpaid wages had been owed to seafarers working onboard the MSXT Emily, with the ship’s operators (MSM Ship Management Pte Ltd China) attempting to pay the amount owed once they were aware that AMSA inspectors were onboard.

The vessel’s operator appears to have concealed this repeated wage theft, AMSA said.

“Wage theft, forgery and coercion are serious matters, and I have been deeply troubled to hear of the conditions on the MSXT Emily,” AMSA Executive Director of Operations Michael Drake said.

“The workforce conditions onboard this vessel are a disgrace, and AMSA will not tolerate this in Australian waters.

“I would like to acknowledge the role of the ITF in bringing this matter to our attention, and thank them for their continued advocacy for seafarer rights and welfare.”

Drake said that a one-year ban was necessary to send the message that seafarer welfare should be a priority for every shipping operator.

“Our modern economy relies on the hard work these seafarers do, and when they are mistreated, the flow-on effects can be numerous,” he said.

“Seafarers are at sea for months at a time, and if morale is low or they are in poor physical and mental health, it can increase the risk of something going wrong.

“The supply chain, including vessel charters like K-Line, need to carefully consider which operators they engage to bring vessels to Australia.

“We’re imposing this lengthy ban as a clear deterrent and recognise that these essential workers deserve the dignity and respect of fair pay and good workplace conditions.”

The United Nations has been a driving force in advocating for improved labor practices across various sectors, including the maritime industry. However, despite these efforts, there have been instances of appalling treatment of seafarers within the maritime domain. Reports of unpaid wages, exploitative work conditions, and even cases of total abandonment of seafarers have cast a gloomy shadow over an industry striving to align itself with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These distressing incidents not only tarnish the reputation of the maritime sector but also stand as stark contradictions to the aspirations of achieving fair labor practices and better living conditions for workers as set forth by the UN. As the industry moves forward, it becomes paramount for stakeholders to address these challenges collectively, reinforcing their commitment to ESG principles and the UN SDGs, and thus steering the maritime industry towards a more ethical and sustainable future for all those who contribute to its success.