Paul Falzon, ITF contact in Malta, has been helping the crew on a daily basis since 13 May, when they responded to ITF calls. The ITF had been offering help for weeks after hearing from Malta that there was a ship outside its national waters whose crew were saying that conditions were bad and that they felt threatened by the company.
Paul Falzon explained: “The situation was as follows: the company, Alco Shipping Services, had not paid the crew’s wages for more than four months. It had promised that the vessel would undergo repairs but never kept its promises. It was not giving any cash to crew, meaning they could not even contact their families. It had ordered the ship to remain 100 miles from land at anchorage, and had left the vessel without fresh water and provisions. To make matters worse it was threatening the crew to force them to sail to Egypt, despite the vessel’s obvious unfitness to be at sea.
“Within days myself and fellow ITF inspector Mohamed Arrachedi had phoned the Sfax Port’s vessel tracking services asking them to reverse their decision to send the vessel outside Tunisian national waters, written to the company pointing out the appalling conditions and asking for a repatriation plan, and requested that port state control urgently visit the vessel. This they did on 25 May and advised the captain of several deficiencies. We also engaged with the Tunisian authorities and both the Indian and Pakistani embassies in Tunisia to further increase pressure on the company, while keeping in daily contact with the crew.”
Mohamed Arrachedi added: “At the ITF’s request our union, the Federation Nationale des Transports/UGTT, is also backing our fight to get the crew paid and repatriated. The union’s general secretary, Moncef Benromdhane, has personally spoken with the country’s ministry of transport, and a request for help has been sent to the embassy of the United Arabs Emirates, the flag state, to ask that it acts to secure a solution for the crew that will see them paid and repatriated and the deficiencies in the vessel fixed.
“As a result of all these efforts and the ITF-initiated PSC visit, the company, which had tried to ignore all our approaches, has been forced into taking some action. The crew inform us that some, but not nearly enough, water and provisions were put on board and some crew repatriated – they’re also aware that if it weren’t for that PSC visit they’d have been forced to sail, unfed and unpaid, to Egypt on an unsafe vessel weeks ago.”
“Sadly,” he added, “We are also defending the crew of another of the same company’s ships, the Sharjah Moon. Once again we ask the company to decide on a clear, transparent and realisable plan of action that will solve this crisis. The ITF remains available to help them make this happen.”
In the latest offence against the long suffering crew of the Qaaswa, the company is reported in Splash247 (https://goo.gl/1RSY0j) as claiming that all is well on the ship and, unbelievably, that crew members have ‘hijacked it and are selling bunker fuel. Mohamed Arrachedi described the company’s claims as “beneath contempt”. Paul Falzon added that the situation for the crew was “desperate”.