Three ships idled in Australian ports as over-contract crew seek repatriation

Written by Nick Blenkey
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ITF says MV Conti Stockholm crew are exercising their rights under the Maritime Labor Convention [Source: ITF]

Crews on at least three ships in Australian waters have stopped working their ships following expiration of their contracts. The seafarers are bidding for repatriation as the crew change crisis caused by COVID-19 related travel bans drags on.

Back in June, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliated seafarers’ unions said they would assist seafarers with expired contracts to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.

Now, the ITF reports that crews of two ships in Western Australia and Victoria refused to keep sailing today in bids for repatriation. This follows a similar move by the crew of the Hong Kong flagged bulker Unison Jasper, which has been held up in Newcastle, New South Wales, since last week.

The two latest ships to be affected are the Liberian-flagged containership Conti Stockholm, which is idled alongside in the Port of Fremantle awaiting a relief crew. In the Port of Geelong, the Marshall Islands-flagged Ben Rinnes has been stopped after initially four, then five, of the crew told the ITF that they wanted to be repatriated following expiry of their contracts.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) says Australia is facing economic carnage from clogged ports as a result of rapidly worsening crew change crisis around its coasts, as the crews of two further ships in Western Australia and Victoria refused to keep sailing today in bids for repatriation.

The ITF says the current Conti Stockholm Romanian, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Filipino and Polish crew members refused to sail the ship and demanded repatriation after many months at sea.

ITF says the 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 Conti Stockholm was boarded today by a member of the Australian federal Labor opposition today, Senator Glen Sterle. He is supporting the ITF’s call for a coordinated response from the Australian Government working with unions and industry to ease the crew change crisis.

ITF Coordinator for Australia Dean Summers says the federation and its affiliate the Maritime Union of Australia are answering the call of seafarers who are exercising their human right to stop working once their contracts have finished.

“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,” said Summers. “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.”

“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,” added Summers. “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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