The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Floating detention centre

The Immigration Department appears to have added ships to its arsenal of detention facilities. Tonga-registered Capitaine Tasman was branded a "floating detention centre" after 26 crew were barred from setting foot in Australia, this week, in defiance of international conventions.

ITF (International Transport Federation) spokesman, Dean Summers, has been given the brush by the Immigration Department and its Minister Amanda Vantstone's office in his bid to have members of the multi-national crew allowed ashore.

"It's the first time I have heard of an entire ship's crew being locked-in in this country", he said. "Shore leave is a basic right for seafarers. It is respected around the world and supported by international conventions."

Crew from the flag-of-convenience ship were barred from coming ashore in Brisbane last week and were then holed-up at Darling Harbour, in the middle of Sydney's ritzy tourist precinct.

It is understood the banning order was handed down by Brisbane-based Immigration official, Brod Richie, but he was evasive when asked for clarification.

"I am not able to provide you with any information about that", he said. "I am not going to provide you with any response and I want you to be very clear on that understanding as well."

However, shipping agent Harlen Gordon, was more forthcoming. He said crew members would have to remain on board the Capitaine Tasman in Melbourne, as well, and there was nothing his company could do about it.

"It's an immigration issue. Our hands are tied", Gordon said.

Gordon said his company understood Immigration had reacted to the flag-of-convenience ship's history. On previous visits, he said, foreign crew had disappeared in Sydney and stowaways had left at Brisbane

Mr Summers said in light of that history, it was interesting that authorities still allowed the vessel to ply its trade in Australian waters.

"There's no argument about the company", he said, "it refuses to deal with the ITF or sign off on minimum international standards.

"It's a crappy operation but we are concerned about the crew. They still have rights and there are important questions about those rights that need to be answered."

Back to index page