In October the UK Border Force contacted inspector Tommy Molloy because they were concerned about two young Indian seafarers onboard the Amira Laura, a Tuvalu registered cargo ship.
Mr Molloy discovered that the seafarers were being severely underpaid, required to work 16 hour per days and fed cold food and bread once a day.
He then found that an Egyptian crew member was being paid USD500 per month, despite his contract saying he should get USD1,750.
This led to a total payment claim of USD27,500 for the three seafarers by Mr Molloy, even though the Maritime Coastguard Agency had felt it was unable to insist that the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum wage was paid.
Mr Molloy said: “But things then went from bad to worse as they waited for their money. The family members of the crew were threatened in their home countries and the brother of the Egyptian was beaten up by representatives of the company, El Amira.
“Then the three seafarers suffered physical violence onboard, and I was also threatened. I had to call in the police and port security to intervene and we took the three guys off the ship and put them up in a hotel.”
Since then the two Indian seafarers have flown home with ITF officials meeting them in Chennai to ensure their safety. The Egyptian seafarer is in the UK as his application for asylum is considered.
Mr Molloy added: “This was a shocking case of exploitation, but I can’t see why it was allowed to happen. How can authorities say they can’t enforce the ILO minimum wage when it’s referred to in the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention?
“They are not the only flag state authorities to do so. I have been told directly by one flag state that it is not enforceable. In which case what is the point of it?
“In effect they are saying a ship owner is welcome to pay as little as they can get away with.”