Sunday, August 23, 2020

Stranded Burmese Crew of Bulk-carrier Unison Jasper

(Staff article from The ABC NEWS on 31 July 2020.)

Crew members of ship detained in Newcastle complain of mistreatment, underpayment: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has detained a ship in the Port of Newcastle after seafarers complained about being mistreated, fatigued and underpaid.

Eleven crew from Myanmar have been taken off the ship and transferred to Sydney, after Australian Border Force and NSW Police were called to Kooragang Island where the Unison Jasper is docked. With their suitcases packed and masks on, the crew members waited several hours while police coordinated exemptions so they could be transferred to a hotel for quarantine and then eventually flown home.

According to the International Transport Workers' Federation, the crew members were desperate to return home. When the ship arrived in Newcastle this week, union representatives boarded and said they found documents showing the seafarers were in some cases only being paid a quarter of what they were due.

Some of the crew said they had been forced to sign extensions to their contracts. ITWF national coordinator Dean Summers said this was common and happening worldwide. "They're a casualty of what's happening with the world's shipping, but more acutely these seafarers have been on board for 14 months without a day off; in fact, 14 months without stepping foot off that ship," he said.

Crew change complications: International coronavirus-related restrictions have made it difficult to change crew aboard ships, but AMSA has issued a notice saying that seafarers cannot be forced to sign extensions to their contracts if they want to be repatriated.

AMSA said it had detained the bulk carrier over potential serious deficiencies, including repatriation of seafarers. The Taiwanese-owned ship sails under a Hong Kong flag and is captained by Chinese officers with a Myanmarese crew. It has been operating under a Federal Government licence, sailing from port to port along the Australian coast; it arrived in Newcastle with a cargo of alumina for Tomago Aluminium.

Tomago chief executive Matt Howell said the company was not responsible for the ship's operation but he was very concerned by the allegations. He said if the reports were correct, his company would be absolutely appalled and expected the ship's owners to comply with the law in all respects. The ABC has asked the ship's owners, Unison Marine Corporation, for comment.

How they change the crew of bulk carrier in Australia

Two incidents with two bulk carriers occurred in Australia recently, with all usual stuff – “underpayment”, ITF, Maritime Union of Australia MUA, AMSA and biased media. I will skip “underpayment” part of the story, and with that, the first incident, in which AMSA has banned bulk carrier TW HAMBURG from Australian ports for 12 months.

As well, I won’t go into underpayment part of another story, involving bulk carrier UNISON JASPER. There’s absolutely no meaning, no sense, in writing about “underpayment” cases, as long as they are instigated by ITF and its’ minions. We know and hear only what ITF says, we never hear from shipowners. They’re bad guys, ITF are good guys, and this is it. No media ever, tried to dig deeper, and interview owners and crews, without trade union goons nearby.

Well, they’re all – media and good trade union fellas – the same, part of a “new bolschevik normal”, nothing to wonder at. I address shipowners and crews again – you may, if you dare, if you’re desperate enough to understand, that you have nothing to lose in “new normal”, send your story to Maritime Bulletin, it will be published.

Incident with UNISON JASPER is much more interesting or outrageous, depending on what side one’s on, whether he’s immersed in “new normal” to the depth of no-return, or he’s still a rational and sensible human being.

UNISON JASPER had been detained at Koorgang Island, Newcastle, on Jul 31 by AMSA, after seafarers complained about being mistreated, fatigued and underpaid. 11 Burmese crew who had come off the vessel had been taken to Sydney under police escort and were now at a motel starting 14 days of quarantine. The virus isolation was “a bit ironic seeing they have been in isolation on the ship for 14 months”, said Australian ITF coordinator Dean Summer. He said AMSA and ITF were being “pressured” to have the vessel moved from the Kooragang 3 alumina berth to another wharf.

The MUA’s national secretary Paddy Crumlin said “This vessel – with seafarers intimidated, robbed of their wages, and forced to remain on board for up to 14 months – reveals an extreme form of exploitation that has no place in Australian waters,”. ITWF national coordinator Dean Summers said “…these seafarers have been on board for 14 months without a day off; in fact, 14 months without stepping foot off that ship,”.

And now it’s time for questions: Are Australian trade union leaders aware, that hundreds of ships calling Australia, are having the same problem of crew change? That there’s no hub in the region, including all East Asia, where crew changes are possible?

“… police coordinated exemptions so Burmese crew could be transferred to a hotel for quarantine and then eventually flown home.” – what about other crews? Can’t police and all related agencies, coordinate mass exemptions?

Who and how forced the crew to stay on board? Shipowner sent in team of toughs, to prevent seamen from stepping foot on land? Or are they (and all other crews of all other ships) prevented from crew change and land walks, by Australian authorities? By the way, stepping a foot off the ship in Australia wasn’t all that easy in pre-pandemic era, either, thanks to AMSA regulations.

As of morning Aug 4, UNISON JASPER was still berthed at Newcastle. Will Australian authorities allow new crew to arrive to Australia, and board the ship? If they will, why don’t they practice it en mass, why do they keep the practice, which facilitates “extreme form of exploitation”?

What will happen to Burmese crew who’re now in quarantine? Will they be able to return home, how and when? Who will pay for their repatriation, if, say, owner goes bankrupt, thanks to tireless efforts of ITF/MUA/AMSA?

Why this specific bulk carrier was so brutally attacked? Well, here’s one side of the story explaining, why Taiwanese owner was targeted:

The MUA’s national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the UNISON JASPER had been given a temporary licence by Canberra for the run between Gladstone and Newcastle. The ITF and its affiliate MUA have long campaigned against the use of foreign ships and crew on coastal voyages that were traditionally done by Australian vessels and crew before the deregulation of shipping allowed so-called “flag of convenience” vessels into the domestic maritime trade.

I don’t know how justifiable is a long-time struggle against foreign ships in Australian cabotage, but for all I know, any struggle should be a fair struggle, not a backstabbing, especially in most demanding times. On the other hand, there’s no place in “new normal” era for such stupid and obsolete things, as conscience, courage, fair play, morals, etc.

I said it many times – NWO is targeting everything independent, be it State or industry, shipowner or family-owned restaurant. Trade unions, PSCs, maritime bodies, media and politicians are nothing but weapons in NWO war against humanity. They’re, essentially, robots, manipulated killer machines, without brains or will of their own.

Stranded Seafarers Refuse to Sail on Three Ships in Australia

Seafarers aboard three vessels who’ve been stuck at sea beyond their original contracts are stalling vessels in Australia, halting work and demanding to be repatriated, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

Port and border restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19 have snarled crew swaps, stranding workers on ships beyond their original contracts. That’s left about 250,000 seafarers stuck at increasing risk of physical and mental exhaustion, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.

The Conti Stockholm, Ben Rinnes and Unison Jasper vessels are idle and blocking berths in the ports of Fremantle, Geelong and Newcastle, respectively, the union said in a statement Thursday. The crews are within their rights to refuse to sail, the union said.

“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,” ITF Coordinator for Australia Dean Summers said in the statement. “The consequence for Australia’s mineral and agricultural exports and flow of imports will be significant. This is an economic and humanitarian emergency.”

The Unison Jasper was hauling alumina, according to the ITF. The Ben Rinnes was chartered by Cargill Inc. to transport soy, it said. “We are frustrated to learn of crew members being over contract on the Ben Rinnes, which is unfortunately one of many such cases at the moment,” a spokesperson for Cargill said, adding that the firm recognizes the challenges that many crew are facing and is working to try and repatriate them.

Many of the crew on the Ben Rinnes had been on board for longer than the legal maximum, and one of the seafarers has been on the ship for more than 17 months, according to ITF. The crew signed five-month extensions after their nine-month tour after the vessel owner promised to repatriate them, the union said.

The Conti Stockholm is at an anchorage in Fremantle while a solution is being is worked out, according to a spokesperson from the port. The Port of Geelong said it was working on a statement early Friday. The Unison Jasper is in the port of Newcastle, however its status is a matter for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, a spokesperson for the port said. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions seeking comment.

Workers exploited on bulk carrier

 The bulk carrier Unison Jasper was bringing alumina to the Tomago Aluminium smelter when it was detained by authorities in the Port of Newcastle 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 Unison Jasper had been operating under a temporary license issued by the Australian Government to undertake coastal shipping between the ports of Gladstone and Newcastle.

Massive underpayment of wages were discovered when the vessel docked in Brisbane earlier in July, resulting in crew members being paid $93,000 USD they were owed. Once the vessel left port, the Burmese seafarers were allegedly intimidated by ship officers to hand back the wages in question to ship management. Another $60,000 USD in owed wages has been uncovered by inspectors from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in Newcastle.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and ITF are working with agencies, including the NSW Police, Border Force, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Port of Newcastle, to have the workers paid the wages they are owed and have them safely repatriated to their home country. The MUA believes that the captain is in no condition to sail the ship after himself being at sea for 14 months and that the entire crew should be replaced.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said: “What we have seen on this vessel — with seafarers intimidated, robbed of their wages, and forced to remain on board for up to 14 months — is an extreme form of exploitation that has no place in Australian waters, but risks becoming more common as authorities fail to properly regulate amidst a global crew change crisis.

“Quite frankly, the Australian Government allowed things to get this bad on the Unison Jasper. They were clearly unconcerned with the seafarers’ conditions on board when they freely issued a temporary licence to this ship just last month. This is a ship with crew who had worked for 13 months — already beyond the legal limit. This vessel already had complaints lodged to AMSA for serious breaches of seafarers’ rights. Why did they grant it a licence when all the warning signs were there?

“This route was previously serviced by Australian vessels, crewed by local Australian seafarers, and paid Australian wages and conditions, but the last remaining Australian vessel on this run, the CSL Melbourne, was removed from service in 2016. These Australian ships have been replaced by foreign Flag of Convenience vessels, operating under temporary licenses from the Federal Government, and crewed by exploited foreign workers.”

Mr Crumlin said exploitation and abuse on ships often occurs in supply chains when those who are supposed to be responsible turn a blind eye.

“The owners of Tomago Aluminium — which include Rio Tinto and CSL — must take action to address this extreme exploitation in their supply chain. We have the largest aluminium smelter in Australia, owned by some of the largest companies operating in the country, allowing abuse and exploitation to occur under their noses,” he said.

“The mistreatment of these Burmese seafarers is not only illegal under Australian law, it is a clear breach of the international Maritime Labour Convention. The companies which are profiting from exploitation in our waters, and indeed anywhere, should be held to account.

“In my view, the continued issuing of licenses to Flag of Convenience vessels such as the Unison Jasper, crewed by exploited seafarers, makes our Federal Government complicit in the inevitable abuse that transpires. It’s built into the system.”

Mr Crumlin said discovery that the crew had been on board for up to 14 months, far in excess of the Maritime Labour Convention maximum of 11 months, was proof that the Federal Government was also asleep at the wheel when it came to regulating Australian shipping and upholding seafarer’s human rights.

“Seven of the crew members on board the Unison Jasper have been on board for 14 months with no way to get home, with the remaining four ratings on board too frightened to re-join the ship,” he said. “Outrageously, the company was refusing to hand over the seafarers’ passports and was attempting to dictate terms to the Australian authorities. You have to wonder how we got here.

“Australia needs to sharpen its response to the unfolding crew change crisis that is leading to more cases like these. International seafarers need to be able to leave and join ships at Australian ports. We cannot tolerate floating prisons in our waters.”

Backstabbing and the shipping

The number of owners and managers of bulk carriers, who’re afraid of sending their ships to Australia, is growing. They’re afraid, that their ships will be detained in ports under absolutely false pretext of violating Maritime Labor Convention (which is in itself, a shame), and some of crews will be coerced into going on strike, a suicidal act for both seamen and owners.

An insane practice of comrades bolscheviks, who’re running Australian maritime trade union and maritime safety agency, is built on outrageously false allegations and accusations. To listen to them, one may think, that the world and Australian ports are wide open for crew changes, and the only reason we have humanitarian crews crisis on our hands, is these greedy shipowners, who don’t want to change the crews, and keep crews on board by force.

I believe Australian bolscheviks aim is twofold, they’re pursuing general agenda of UN/IMO to eliminate private shipping, and locally, they’re trying to push out from Australian freight market all foreign companies, with the exception probably, of major transnational companies. If they succeed, they’ll be the ones to control Australian shipping, or so they hope.

To talk about greedy shipowners guilty in everything bad, what is happening on the planet – media, both mainstream and minor, is playing their nauseating hypocritical game of being “impartial” and “non-biased”. That is to say, that they voice one side only – UN/IMO/ILO/ITF/authorities and the rest of them, but they never allow those who’re guilty by definition, the shipwoners, to have a say, to explain what really is going on.

It’s like you know, voicing an advocate hired by a mob, but blotting out mob’s victims. That’s what modern media call “impartiality”. In situations like the one we’re having now, it’s not just biased blunder, it’s nothing short of a crime. Tragedy is unfolding on board of merchant ships worldwide, media meanwhile, is doing nothing to investigate, to listen to all sides and to come up with probable solutions, on the contrary, media is pushing a campaign for worldwide crews strike, which will leave thousands of seamen stranded in ports, locked on board of ships, without payment and without repatriation perspectives.

Who’s to pay for repatriation, and who’s to pay wages? Shipowners will go bankrupt, en mass. Ah yes I forgot, trade unions and charities will, most probably, provide abandoned crews with instant noodles and bottled water. Happy now?

One of industry media outlets recently came up with a thriller story of “some of charterers and shipowners”, who’re not helping crews in these times of crisis. How? Some of them, as this outlet was told by somebody, are trying to restrict internet connection at sea so that seamen won’t be able to share strike tactics. See?

Bloody evil, greedy shipowners, they’re to blame. They’re culprits. Instead of committing joint suicide both by themselves and by crews by means of mass strikes, they’re trying explain to crews, why such strikes are suicidal, and not a way out, not a solution. Right now there’s a bulk carrier anchored on Koh Si Chang Anchorage, Thailand, under command of a Captain, who’s a very old friend of mine. The ship is offloading coal.

Crew is overwhelmingly, Filipino. Part of crew were changed in Singapore, several days ago (he himself, managed to relieve previous Captain on the second attempt, he had to fly half the world, back and forth, greedy manager paying for everything including Business Class flights for officers and ranking crew). The rest may be changed soon, in Manila, so the ship will have to deviate from her next voyage.

Captain is having talks with crew, regularly, explaining to them criminal and corrupt character of trade unions policy and practices, and lies and fakes of media which support them. And here comes industry outlet, accusing owners and managers of deploying “dark tactics”, as an excellent illustration. If there’s an example of backstabbing with capital B, here it is.

I repeat, I don’t criticize media, trade unions and so-called “maritime organizations”, because they’re robots, instruments of war, terminators. There’s no human being left to talk to, to discuss, to dispute, to jointly, work out a solution. They dump whatever integrity they had, long time ago, in the name of their despicable carriers and fortunes.

(Blogger's Notes: Unfortunately the Unison Jasper's Burmese Crew are the pawns caught in the long-running fight between the trade unions and Federal Liberal (conservative) Government. The Government has been under intense pressure from the big companies including the mining companies to allow the foreign ships with foreign crews, relatively much cheaper, on the lucrative coastal runs.

But the Australian unions do not want that as the cheaper alternative to Australian ships with Australian crews will eventually kill Australian maritime industry. Instead of fighting the mighty conservative government the trade unions are forced to use other convenient excuses such as violation of stringent Australian labor rights against the foreign ship owners and operators. 

Throw in the COVID-19 restrictions into that ideological war between Big Business and militant Trade Unions in Australia our poor Burmese will be the only losers. They will lose their livelihood eventually as their bosses will blacklist them forever.)