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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Abandoned Seafarers Repatriated After Five Months on Livestock Carrier

April 18, 2023

The Yangtze Harmony's crew at Singapore Changi Airport. Source: ITF

The Yangtze Harmony's crew at Singapore Changi Airport. Source: ITF

Thirteen Filipino seafarers, the last of 43 abandoned on two livestock carriers, have made it home after more than five months onboard the Yangtze Harmony.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) intervened after the ship’s owners abandoned the vessel and its crew in October 2022. At that time, the Singapore Sheriff court seized the Yangtze Harmony on behalf of Glander International Bunkering over an unpaid fuel bill. That began a legal process to sell the ship and pay off its debts, including the US$429,972 in unpaid wages owed to the crew.

The ITF said the Yangtze Harmony’s Hong Kong-based shipowner had a long history of abandoning crew, and its vessels have been detained before for violating safety and crew welfare rules.

The Yangtze Fortune, sister vessel of the Yangtze Harmony, was abandoned in December 2022 after it was seized by the Australian Federal Court at Portland over the owner’s refusal to make urgent repairs.

Between the Yangtze Harmony and the Yangtze Fortune, the ITF has advocated for the recovery of US$1 million in backpay and flights home for 43 seafarers.

The ITF’s Flags of Convenience Campaign Network Coordinator for Asia Pacific, Sandra Bernal, said: “The seafarers on board the Yangtze Harmony were suffering from fatigue, anxiety and stress.” She said the contrast between the way authorities in Singapore and Australia handled the two abandonment cases showed how a port state’s response to an abandonment can make a huge difference to the immediate welfare and mental health impacts for affected crew.

“In Australia, efforts were made by authorities to inform crew of their rights, to check on their welfare, and to put their human needs above the commercial interests of the parties vying for a share of the ship’s sale value. There are elements of this kind of approach that I would like to see more widely adopted across port states.”

She continued: "We have to remember that the abandoned seafarers are not criminals – they are the victims in the situation, when an employer, a shipowner, lets them down and does wrong by them. We should never make crew have to pay the price of their employer’s negligence – in money, time, or mental wellbeing. That would be blaming the victim.”

Late last year, the ITF Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray, said that the Yangtze Fortune was representative of a broader problem in the livestock shipping industry where crews go unpaid and ships operate on the precipice of insolvency. “We believe there is an epidemic of borderline insolvency amongst the operators of these livestock ships as they repeatedly feature among the worst cases in our inspections around Australia and internationally.”

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