Stranded seamen in line for payday as judge orders ship sold
Eight Filipino and Scandinavian seamen stranded on board a cargo ship in Hong Kong since September last year came a step closer to receiving more than US$320,000 in unpaid wages yesterday after Admiralty judge Anselmo Reyes gave clearance for the ship to be sold.
The bailiff's office will have the ship, the 1,218-deadweight-tonne Marie T, valued before offers are invited for its sale.
Industry insiders thought the vessel, built in 1987, was worth about US$1.5 million. They said the crew would have first priority in being paid even if the sale led to others coming forward with claims against the ship's owner.
Admiralty law experts thought that if the sale process was successful the crew could receive their money in the next two months. By then, total wages would have increased by a further US$50,000.
Solicitor, Damien Laracy, acting on behalf of the Greek-Filipino owner of the ship, said he had received no instructions from the owner whether to contest the sale. 'I have a neutral view,' he said.
The ship's crew had the vessel arrested at the end of September to put pressure on the shipowner to pay their wages. They had the help of the local branch of the International Transport Workers' Federation.
But instead of seeing their outstanding wage bill settled, the crew were virtually abandoned, said chief engineer Sandstig Borie.
He said that each of the six Filipino crew received four US$500 payments from Hong Kong's Mission to Seafarers; the crew sent back most of that to their families in the Philippines.
Borie, who is still owed cash from an earlier contract with the same shipowner, said it had been difficult for Filipinos and their families.
The 71-year-old praised the Reverend Peter Ellis from the Mission to Seafarers together with local transport workers' federation representatives, including Ting Kam-yuen and Jason Lam Wai-hong, for helping out.
There had been an attempt to sell the ship after the vessel was arrested, but negotiations collapsed after four months.
Since then, the Panama-flagged ship has languished at the northwest Lamma anchorage.
Before being detained, the ship was used to transport ammunition, explosives and ammonium nitrate between the Philippines and Australia as well as to the mainland and Indonesia.
Estimated value of the Marie T, which has been in Hong Kong waters since September last year, in US dollars: $1.5m