The Guardian 21 September, 2005

Seafarers locked up in Tasmania

Thirty-one seafarers have been locked up in a makeshift Tasmanian detention centre after their flag of convenience vessel was arrested, south of Hobart, last week.

International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) officials are battling to represent crew from South America, Spain, Russia and Ukraine who face indefinite detention, or the prospect of deportation without wages.

The crew is being held at a former hydro camp at Bronte Park Village in the Tasmanian Highlands. They were transferred there after the Cambodian-flagged Taruman was seized by Customs and Fisheries officers who suspect it of poaching Patagonian toothfish.

"If a company breaks the law, seafarers should not be criminalised", ITF spokesman, Dean Summers, says.

"We are asking that they be repatriated, with wages, and that the full force of the law be brought against businessmen who control the vessel. At the moment, we donít believe the interests of the seafarers are being represented in any way. While authorities will talk with company lawyers and representatives, our efforts to give seafarers a voice have been an exercise in frustration."

The Taruman, which previously sailed under a Panamanian flag of convenience, is owned by Rulofend Corp, of Uruguay.

It began its voyage in Denmark and changed flags during a stopover in Leixoes, Portugal. On the basis of a conversation with an officer on board, some crew fear they will be abandoned without owed wages.

Mr Summers says the arrest of the vessel drives home the threat to Australian interests of flag of convenience shipping, championed by the Howard government.

"The lack of controls and responsibilities, on which flag of convenience is based, is a threat to our national security. This case adds to previous evidence that suggests it is also being used to plunder our maritime resources", he said.

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