More seafarers demand repatriation in Australian ports

According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), two more ships, Conti Stockholm and Ben Rinnes in Western Australia and Victoria, refused to keep sailing in bids for repatriation, joining the alumina-carting Unison Jasper which has been held up in Newcastle, NSW.

The ITF believes the government’s failures to introduce a system of effective crew change have directly led to more seafarers being over contract and taking matters into their own hand to get home.

The Conti Stockholm and Ben Rinnes are the latest ships to become idle and block berths due to over-contract crew enforcing their right to refuse to sail indefinitely, joining the alumina-carting Unison Jasper which has been held up in Newcastle, NSW since early August.

In the Port of Fremantle, Perth on 6 Aug, the container vessel Conti Stockholm was stopped. The Liberian-flagged ship is owned by German company NSB Group. The ship is now stranded, going nowhere, as the company awaits a relief crew. 

The current Romanian, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Filipino and Polish crew members refused to sail the ship and demanded repatriation after many months at sea. These seafarers are over contract, and have a right under the Maritime Labor Convention to stop working at completion of their contracts, and be returned home at the employers’ expense.

The second stopped ship is the Marshall Islands-flagged Ben Rinnes, which has been chartered to cart soy product for Cargill. The Greek-owned bulk vessel was stopped in the Victorian port of Geelong after initially four, then five, of the crew told the ITF that they wanted to be repatriated following expiry of their contracts.

All of the Ben Rinnes crew who have taken a stand to get off have been on board for longer than the legal maximum, except for just one, who will go beyond the 11-month limit within the next 30 days.

One of the crew has spent more than 17 months on board. The crew have told the ITF that they signed five-month extensions after their nine-month tour, on a promise from the owners to repatriate them. As of yet there are no plans by the company to get them home.

ITF Coordinator for Australia Dean Summers said: “The crews of these two ships have bravely stood up and said that they will not be leaving these ports to do another tour of duty on what amount to floating prisons. 

“They have finished the contracts they signed up for, and now they are getting off. It is not their fault that governments like Australia are so profoundly disinterested in shipping that these governments have not used the last five months of this pandemic to find a way to get international seafarers to and from our ports.

“Let’s be clear: these tired and fatigued seafarers are simply exercising their human rights to get off these ships because governments like Australia refuse to address the issues around the crew change crisis.

“If Australia is happy to continue benefiting from global trade, from sending exports overseas and receiving essential goods, then Australia can’t treat the seafarers who ship those goods like our slaves.

“These three ships are just the tip of the iceberg. With international crew change all but blocked for the last five months – you can expect to see more and more crews decide to drop anchor and get off in Australia. The consequence for Australia’s mineral and agricultural exports and flow of imports will be significant. This is an economic and humanitarian emergency.”

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