The Marshall Islands registered bulk carrier Toba has finally departed from the Port of Liverpool after it was detained for almost one month by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) with numerous Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) deficiencies.
Nautilus/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy received a tip-off from Manchester-based maritime lawyers Salvus Law who were about to arrest the vessel on arrival for a two-year-old debt to a Chinese creditor for US$30,000. They explained that they had recently arrested other ships belonging to the owners for non-payment of various debts.
'The vessel is listed as being owned by First Lines Co SA of Greece. The management is identified as Seaways Maritime International SA, also of Greece and with whom correspondence for this matter was directed, and the operator as Cargill International SA of Geneva,' said Mr Molloy.
The Filipino and Eastern European crew were promised payment in the vessel's previous port of call in Las Palmas, but payment only materialised for a few crew members who were repatriated from there.
'As much as we witness in our role, it still shocks to go on board a huge bulker with 21 crew members and find empty food stores, some crew not paid for six months and crew members with long ago expired contracts of employment, Mr Molloy added. 'The Filipino captain had been onboard for 18 months, since January 2016.'
Mr Molloy called UK port state control (PSC) Inspectors from the MCA who had no option but to detain the vessel on 19 June until matters were put right. Some fresh fruit and vegetables were put onboard and the company promised to pay and repatriate those whose contracts had expired.
As much as we witness in our role, it still shocks to go on board a huge bulker with 21 crew members and find empty food stores, some crew not paid for six months and crew members with long ago expired contracts of employment
'The MCA made it clear to the company that they would not return to the vessel to re-inspect until they had heard from the ITF that all deficiencies had been rectified,' he said. 'Some three weeks later the company were pressing MCA to return to re-inspect. I was asked if I could check if matters had been put right. Some crew had been paid and repatriated, but I was astonished to find that the senior officers who were owed between US$20,000 and US$48,000 each were still onboard unpaid. Some of the more recent joiners who had not been paid since March along with those who joined in June remained unpaid. And the food stores were completely empty.'
Mr Molloy liaised with the MCA, the Marshall Islands flag state surveyor, Class NK surveyor and the UK Border Force. Class and flag inspections were also suspended pending these matters being rectified.
'Finally, the remaining crew were repatriated and all were paid. The amount recovered in owed wages was US$182,882,' he said. 'There is no good reason why a company should withhold this amount of earned wages from their employees. They do it because they can. They just hope to get away with it for as long as possible. As with other recent cases in the UK, this treatment – non-payment of wages, non-repatriation at the end of contracts and no food provisions – amounts to abandonment and once again raises the spectre of modern-day slavery on ships calling to our ports.'