Thirty-five sailors were left unpaid for three months while on board live cattle export vessels with poor safety records amid a dispute between managers and vessel owners , one of whom is Australian businessman Nick Thorne, can reveal Guardian Australia.
The seafarers ‘division of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) claimed that the non-payment of the crews of the Barkly Pearl and Diamantina meant that they could be considered abandoned under international law.
The two vessels are 70% owned by Singaporean company Beng Kuang Marine (BKM) in a joint venture called Cattle Line. Thorne owns the remaining 30% through his Northern Territory-based cattle export business NTXLS.
The 7,700-tonne Diamantina and 5,400-tonne Barkly Pearl normally transport livestock from Australia to Southeast Asia, but have been idle in Indonesian waters for the past three months due to a dispute between the owners and their manager, Global Radiance Ship Management.
Ship records show that under Cattle Line ownership, maritime authorities have repeatedly found both ships in breach of safety regulations, with 177 faults recorded against the Barkly Pearl and 68 against the Diamantina.
In January, the Australian Marine Safety Authority banned the Barkly Pearl from Australian ports for two years after it was sighted in the water with a hole in its hull.
AMSA’s general manager of operations, Allan Schwartz, then issued a statement saying the ship’s poor condition “endangered the lives of seafarers on board and posed an immediate threat to the Australian marine environment”.
BKM was also under financial pressure. A report filed by the company with the Singapore Stock Exchange shows that its shipping division, which includes Cattle Line, recorded a loss of S $ 17.1 million last year, which allowed the company as a whole to suffer a loss of S $ 15.4 million.
John Wood, an ITF campaign adviser, said the Barkly Pearl was now in a BKM-owned shipyard on the Indonesian island of Batam, near Singapore, while the Diamantina sat off Jakarta. after being arrested by the Indonesian Navy at the end of August for anchoring in territorial waters without authorization.
He said after the ITF intervention, most of the Pakistani, Filipino and Indonesian crew on the two ships were paid last week, but eight a.m. Wednesday morning had not yet received what was due to them.
He accused a representative of BKM of abusing Pakistani crew members after the company reimbursed them for their wages aboard the Diamantina last week.
âThe last witness words spoken by the owner’s representativeâ¦
In an email provided to Guardian Australia by BKM, the representative, a local agent, admitted to the explosion and apologized for not having his temper under control.
In email correspondence with Wood, BKM’s chief financial officer, William Lee, said BKM was “committed to our obligations, including crew salaries” and blamed the former manager of both vessels, the Singaporean company Global Radiance Ship Management, which BKM sacked in October.
âWe are facing payment and accounting irregularities with the GRSM vessel management officer,â Lee said in his email to Wood. “They have yet to produce the proper payment records that we have been asking for for a long time.”
Lee told Guardian Australia that GRSM “has stopped paying crew wages”.
“We therefore have no choice but to intervene to hire a reputable independent Indonesian agent to resolve their repatriation and make the direct payment of salaries,” he said.
He said it was “incorrect” to say that both ships had poor safety records.
“The ships are doing the mandatory dry docking, repairs and maintenance,” he said.
Thorne did not answer Guardian Australia’s questions in detail but also blamed GRSM.
âCattle Line has been supporting our longtime sailors and were fortunately able to settle their unpaid wages when they were abandoned by our former ship management,â he said in an email to Guardian Australia.
âTermination has been served on our former managers to ensure and maintain the integrity of the welfare of the livestock and our sailors. “
However, both Wood and GRSM claimed that GRSM had already paid some salaries out of its own pocket, without being reimbursed by BKM.
GRSM’s attorney, Australian attorney Sharangan Maheswaran, said the company took legal action in Singapore in September to arrest Diamantina and Barkly Pearl.
âThe management agreements were terminated after letters of demand were issued by GRSM for the repayment of large overdue debts incurred by Cattle Line,â he said.
âBoth proceedings concern significant debts contracted by Cattle Line to GRSM for goods and services provided to the two vessels. There is no problem with the accounts maintained by the GRSM.
He said the company was “disturbed by the treatment of the crew of the two ships” and that its “most immediate concern is to ensure that the crew of the two ships are not involved in the dispute between Cattle Line and her creditors “.