Twelve seafarers who have not been paid for more than nine months have been given a boost as the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure fined the ship’s manager 30,000 UAE Dirham (approximately USD$8000).
The cargo ship MV Project Trader has already been arrested by a firm of lawyers which will not confirm who they represent but are suspected to be acting for DP World, owners of the port at Dubai. The ship’s manager, Inzu Ship Charter LLC, has now been fined by the Maritime Transport Affairs section of the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and told if the wages are not paid, court action will commence to sell the ship to cover the wages and other costs. The outstanding wage bill is estimated at over US$102,000. The vessel has also been banned from UAE waters for three months, once it leaves port.
The managers of the ship, Inzu Ship Charter, a company based in the UAE, has refused to respond to the inspectorate team of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) over the non-payment of the wages. The ITF’s inspectorate has 134 inspectors, coordinators and union contacts who support seafarers in standing up for their rights. It was the ITF which first drew the seafarers’ plight to the attention of the Dubai authorities: ITF Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale liaised with them to take action under a UAE law called ‘Cabinet Resolution 71’.
“To make matters worse than the hoard of unpaid wages owed to these seafarers, Inzu has coerced these workers into agreeing to unfair deals under the threat that they will not be allowed home unless they sign,” said Trowsdale.
He said eight of the 12 have already signed a letter agreeing to accept just one month’s pay in return for being repatriated. Another three took the same deal in exchange for further work on other ships. Only the master of the Project Trader has stood his ground and demanded full pay for the work done. The seafarers are from India, Pakistan and Tanzania.
Unacceptable coercing seafarers out of their pay
“We consider these deals to have been made under duress,” said Trowsdale. “These seafarers have worked hard for this company and they are entitled to be paid in full. That’s the law. The company also has an obligation to get them home at the end of their contracts. Quite frankly, it’s appalling that Inzu should try and trick and bully crew in this way. These are the kind of tactics which give shipping a bad name.”
Trowsdale said the ITF welcomed the move by the UAE ministry to step in.
“It does great credit to the UAE authorities that they show no tolerance towards corrupt business practices in shipping, such as the non-payment of wages to seafarers. Action such as this indicates that they value the welfare of seafarers. All I can say is, if I were the directors of Inzu or any other company intent on withholding payment to crew illegally in UAE waters, I would think twice.”
The MV Project Trader is registered in Comoros, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean which is on the ITF’s list of Flags of Convenience (FOC). Under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), flag States have a responsibility to ensure seafarers are paid correctly and repatriated at the end of their contracts. In this case, as in many others, Comoros has failed to ensure ships registered to its flag adhered to these obligations. Comoros is a failed flag State.
Comoros is a risky flag
Thanks to international agreements (memoranda of understanding), port States have the right to inspect ships registered with other countries. This is so that governments can make sure the vessels doing businesses with them comply with local environmental, health and safety, and labour standards.
The UAE is party to the Riyadh MOU. Most European countries inspect under the Paris MOU, which has some of the highest standards in the world. Its secretariat operates a black, grey and white list of flag states based on the safety risks exhibited by the vessels in their fleets during inspection by Paris MOU member states. Comoros is one of only four countries rated a medium-to-high or high risk on the black list (the others are Togo, Cameroon and Albania).
“Owners need to understand that if they register a ship with a Flag of Convenience considered to represent a high safety risk, they will draw themselves to the attention of port authorities all around the world,” said Trowsdale. “They may as well paint a big red target on the stern of their ship, if they’re going raise the Comoros flag over it.”