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'Abandoned' livestock carrier ship to be auctioned in Victoria but stranded crew yet to receive wages

19 Dec 2022

An international livestock carrier ship, the Yangtze Fortune, has been arrested in Portland, Victoria by the Australian Federal Court. In the meantime, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the International Transport Workers' Federation are working with the Admiralty Marshall to support the crew after the ship's owner failed to pay their wages or meet its obligations under international maritime law.

The ship, which is registered under the Flag of Liberia but which operates a trading route between Australia and China, has been anchored near Portland since October and is subject to an abandonment notice lodged with the International Labour Organization. The ship is also subject to Australian Federal Court proceedings brought by commercial creditors from Singapore to recover debts owed to them by the ship’s owner.

After many weeks at anchor near Portland, provisions aboard the ship are running low and many of the crew are desperate to return home but must now stay with the ship while court action and the ship’s sale process unfold.

The ITF Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray, said that the more than 30 crew members, all of whom hail from the Phillipines, had been abandoned by their employer on the stranded ship.

“These workers are already owed, collectively, more than a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid wages, and while the court action is on foot they must stay with their ship despite the ever diminishing prospect of receiving what is owed to them” Mr Bray said.

Shipboard documentation shows that the crew received only one third of what they were owed in October, and the ITF’s investigation has also revealed that the crew’s wages payments in both September and August were made using monies set aside for workers’ leave entitlements and the company’s provident fund.

ITF Australia’s Assistant Coordinator, Matt Purcell, who is providing support to the crew while they’re alongside the wharf in Portland, said that five members of the crew had already clocked up eight months aboard the vessel and were desperate to return home to their families. “These vulnerable, exploited crew face the prospect of spending months longer aboard this ship in dreadful conditions just to get what’s already owed to them, or the choice of returning home after 8 or 9 months away with nothing to show for it,” he said.

Discussions with the crew manager, ship owner and the Flag State have revealed that the company holds little hope of trading out of its financial problems. The ITF and AMSA have been working with the Flag State and the Admiralty Marshall appointed to handle the sale of the ship to find a just outcome for the seafarers stuck aboard in Portland. Unfortunately, even if the ship is sold at auction, the crews may find themselves at the mercy of the market if the proceeds of sale fail to cover the company’s debts to creditors and the total unpaid wages bill.

Ian Bray said that the Yangtze Fortune is 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,” Mr Bray said.