Coal ship owners ‘vanished’ while unpaid crew left without supplies

The Australian Council of Mission to Seafarers has committed up to $10,000 after the Australian Marine Safety Authority found a coal ship’s crew weren’t paid wages in more than two months and its food supplies were dangerously low.

The owners of a coal ship that’s stranded off Gladstone’s coast have either “vanished” or are “watching from the background”, an International Transport Workers Federation inspector says.

The 93,000 tonne Five Stars Fujian, believed to have $40 million worth of coal on board, has been off the Port of Gladstone since July 19.

ITF’s Queensland inspector Sarah McGuire said its Hong Kong branch were trying to track down the owners, but had “no luck”.

“We’re not sure if the owners are sitting in the background watching what’s going on with the crew, or if the owners have completely vanished,” she said.

“The owners seem to have gone missing in action.”

Gladstone Mission to Seafarer’s chaplain Russell Cunningham said its sole focus is an immediate “humanitarian effort” to deliver supplies by Monday morning that would sustain the crew until the “main supplies” arrive on Tuesday.

But McGuire said they are “struggling” to deliver the supplies, with the tug base telling them their boats aren’t equipped to deliver the supplies.

It’s not usually a circumstance we find ourselves in,” she said. “You don’t usually find yourself with a ship full of crew without food or wages off the coast.”

“I’m very much at a loss as to what’s going on.”

McGuire, who spoke to the crew briefly on a shoddy line, said “morale does start to suffer” among crew after nearly a month of uncertainty, according to the Gladstone Observer.

But ITF assistant coordinator Matt Purcell estimates the ship would need $20,000-25,000 for the 16-day voyage to its Hong Kong destination, “maybe more”.

He sees no end in sight to the drama and said the crew “isn’t going anywhere” until wages are paid. He said under the Maritime Labour Convention, of which Australia is a signatory, the vessel couldn’t move until the crew’s wages are paid.

He also said its “particularly disturbing” and symptomatic of an unregulated industry that the workers aren’t protected by an enterprise bargaining agreement.

“Our domestic industry is being decimated by governments and we’ve got these types of ships floating just off our coast,” he said.

“Three strikes and you’re out, I reckon — no food, no wages, and no agreement.”

McGuire said she’s shocked the owners of the cargo haven’t yet come forward to pay the “relatively small amount” of money needed to start the ship.

“There’s $40 million worth of cargo, so we aren’t sure why the owners aren’t stepping forwards to get the ship moving,” she said.

“It all seems to be about money at this stage.”

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