Abandoned crew return home after Chinese cattle truck is sold

Abandoned crew leaves livestock truck
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The last crew, stuck on board for six months, left Australia today (ITF photo)

Published March 22, 2023 19:25 by

The Maritime Executive

The last 16 crew members abandoned aboard a Chinese livestock truck six months ago disembarked on their way home today after their long ordeal. The Federal Court of Australia had prioritized crew members and their welfare, along with support from the local office of Mission to Seafarers and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

The crew and ship’s saga began last September when the Yangtze fortune Soar Harmony Shipping, owned by a Chinese company, arrived in Portland to load its latest cargo, a shipment of 5,200 cattle for shipment to China. Built in 2005 as a container ship and later converted to a livestock carrier, the 4,800 dwt vessel has had a checkered history with at least five names and multiple owners and operators listed. In its current iteration, the ship is registered in Liberia.

An inspection after her arrival in Portland, South Australia, near Melbourne, revealed hull cracks and other maintenance and safety issues that prevented the cattle from being loaded. Shortly thereafter, the owners stopped paying the 36 crew members on board the ship. The court got involved when Australian Global Exports filed a lawsuit against the ship in Western Australia, seeking $2.3 million plus A$1 million in damages for breaching a September booking. Singapore’s Dan-Bunkering also applied to have the ship arrested for non-payment of bills, and ship chandlers in Singapore subsequently filed additional claims against the ship. The ITF also submitted a termination notice to the International Labor Organization on behalf of the crew.

The federal court agreed with the petitioners in December, saying Soar Harmony did so practically abandoned the ship does not respond to court orders. In January 2023, the court officially ordered the auction of the ship. The judge requested that the lawsuit be expedited as he acknowledged several crew members had been on board the ship since April 2022 and were keen to return home with their pay. According to the ITF, the stranded seafarers were owed more than a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid wages (US$160,000) in total.

The Admiralty Marshal consulted with security authorities and decided that 20 of the crew members could be repatriated immediately and they left the ship in January to fly home to the Philippines. However, safety regulators reported that a minimum crew of 16 was required to remain aboard the ship, which they found was rapidly deteriorating and becoming an increasing threat to maritime safety, which was anchored in Portland.

Multiple bids were received, and on February 14, 2023, the court ordered the Marshal to accept the highest bidder’s offer of $8.5 million. The buyer, identified only as Chinese, was required to pay a 10 percent deposit but was unable to transfer the deposit due to “investor delay,” according to the court. The court extended the period but later terminated the contract for breach of contract. The Marshal received court approval to go to the second highest bidder, although that bid was reportedly about four percent below the ship’s estimated value. However, it was well above the third highest bid and the average amount of the other bids received.

“It is certainly in the crew’s best interest that the sale be completed as soon as possible so that they can go home,” Judge J. Stewart said in the order. The marshal had reportedly offered that the captain could be among the first to leave the ship, but Captain Roger Molinos told the media he would not leave until all crew had paid and left. The captain was listed by the court as the third debtor, followed by the other individual crew members.

The Portland Mission to Seafarers provided regular support and well-being to the crew. Among the items provided by the charity were phone cards so the crew could keep in touch with family in the Philippines during their long ordeal. The ITF has worked with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Admiralty Marshall to support the crew and ensure they are paid and able to travel back to the Philippines.

The sale of the Yantzge Fortune closed last week. The new owner sent a replacement crew to Australia and this morning the crew of 16 and their captain left the ship Yangtze fortune Travel to Melbourne and fly home to the Philippines.

Reports say that the Yangtze fortune also appears to be heading towards a future, with the ship expected to sail to China where it will be repaired. Captain Molinos told reporters that he would consider applying for the ship again once it was seaworthy.

Source: www.maritime-executive.com

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