Seafarers say enough is enough to Australian authority

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Maritime Union of Australia say government failures to support crew change will now cost a smelter operation millions of dollars and even more to the local economy, as the unions help the exhausted Burmese crew of the Unison Jasper to stop working and get off the ship.

The bulk carrier Unison Jasper was carting alumina to the Tomago Aluminium smelter near Newcastle when it was recently detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in the Port of Newcastle. The action took place following allegations that crew members were abused, intimidated and forced to sign contract extensions which would have kept them on board for up to 14 months, well beyond the legal maximum of 11 months. The unions alerted AMSA to the human rights breaches, and the agency responded.

Dean Summers, ITF Coordinator for Australia, says the detention of the ship shows that Port State Control agencies such as AMSA will act when seafarers say ‘enough is enough’ and stand up to enforce their rights to get off during the mounting crew change crisis.

“This is the latest flare up where seafarers are standing up and exercising their human right to stop working once their contracts have expired, and get off these ships. It is totally outrageous that these seafarers were already 13 months at sea when the Australian authorities granted this ship a license to do this run along the Australian coast.

“The crew have said ‘we’re not moving this anywhere, now’ and they’ve actually come down the gangway and off the ship. It’s not going anywhere. Now it’s the responsibilities of the Taiwanese owners which have profited off the abuse of these seafarers to deal with a dead ship in a very expensive berth, as the losses will be mounting for the smelter and their buddies.”

Unions constructed a wind break around the huddled crew dockside, as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions prevented them from going more than 13 meters from the vessel.  The ship now won’t move until the ship owners can find fresh crew, who themselves must go through two weeks of quarantine on arriving in Australia, even if they have a negative Covid-19 test result in their home countries.

“The ITF and our affiliates have been clear: governments need to bring in practical exemptions from travel, transit and quarantine rules for seafarers so they can get to and from ships. I’ve no doubt that this situation with the Unison Jasper is a consequence of federal government inaction to coordinate the industry across states, agencies and internationally,” says Summers.

“This is a lesson for the politicians and bureaucrats who seem incapable of bringing in green lanes for seafarers to get crew change, so seafarers don’t have to take the drastic action of stopping ships, as they have done here.”

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