Hong Kong ship detained in Australia after crew found hungry and unpaid for two months

Australian Maritime Safety Authority holding vessel off port of Gladstone in Queensland after Fujian owner suspected of breaching Maritime Labour Convention over insufficient food and unpaid wages for Chinese crew

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 11:26pm

The Hong Kong Marine Department is following up on the detention of a Hong Kong-registered vessel off the Queensland coast in Australia after 20 suffering mainland Chinese crew members were found on board hungry and unpaid for at least two months.

The 93,000-tonne Five Stars Fujian has been detained off the port of Gladstone in Australia since last Friday by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after inspectors found the company had breached the Maritime Labour Convention over the insufficient food and unpaid wages for the Chinese crew.

The bulk carrier, reportedly containing A$40 million (HK$238 million) worth of coal from the Port of Hay Point, south of Mackay, is owned by the Hong Kong-registered Five Stars Fujian Shipping Company, of which mainlander Zheng Wenhe, from Fujian province, is the only director.

Zheng, who is experiencing financial difficulties, is currently on the mainland and has been urged by various parties to resupply the ship immediately and settle the unpaid wages.

Matt Purcell, assistant coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation in Australia, said it was shameful conduct in Australian waters by a foreign-owned and chartered vessel.

“For the owners to abandon their crew, virtually leaving them for dead, is beyond shocking,” Purcell told Australian media. “Even when they were being paid, the crew was barely receiving A$2 an hour, which is well below international standards.”

Emergency provisions were provided for the crew via helicopter by the authority and welfare organisations in Australia.

A Marine Department spokeswoman said it had been liaising with relevant parties after being informed of the vessel’s situation. The department had been told the vessel owner had remitted money to a ship chandler in Australia on Tuesday to pay for food and other supplies for the ship.

“The department is now following up with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on the ship detention case and the ship’s owner and manager regarding the crew’s welfare including unpaid wages,” the spokeswoman said.

The Hong Kong Shipowners Association urged the government to provide immediate assistance to the crew, including supplies of provisions and fuel, and for their repatriation.

The association’s managing director Arthur Bowring said they were extremely concerned about the crew’s welfare.

“There might not be a legal obligation for Hong Kong to provide such facilities, but there is an extremely strong moral and ethical obligation to do so. These seafarers must not be left abandoned without flag state support,” he said.

The vessel will remain in detention until the Australian authority is satisfied provisions are adequate and wages have been paid.