Thirteen Filipino seafarers have returned home after being stranded for over five months aboard the abandoned livestock carrier, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) announced Monday 17 April after working to secure their release.
The repatriation marks the end of a months-long saga involving one shady owner and two of its detained vessels in Singapore and Australia.
The Yangtze Harmony’s abandoned it along its crew in Singapore following the arrest of the vessel over an unpaid fuel bill in October 2022. The owner also stopped payments to the crew, who by April were owed $429,972 in total.
Upon inspection, the ITF found that the Harmony’s Hong Kong-based owner, Soar Harmony Shipping Ltd, had a history of abandoning crew and violating safety and crew welfare rules, discovering that the company had simultaneously abandoned another vessel, the Yangtze Fortune, along with its crew in Australia.
The Yangtze Fortune was abandoned after the Australian Federal Court seized a sister ship in Portland, Victoria, due to the owner’s refusal to make urgent repairs.
After ITF Australia, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and the Marshall and Port State Control coordinated to release an abandoned mariner for a family funeral, the ITF successfully lobbied to reduce the Fortune’s minimum manning levels, resulting in the repatriation of 19 crew members back in January.
ITF’s Sandra Bernal, who led the advocacy for the Harmony’s crew, stressed that the contrasting responses of authorities in Singapore and Australia highlight how a port state’s approach can significantly impact affected crew members’ welfare and mental health.
“In Australia, efforts were made by authorities to inform crew of their rights, to check on their welfare, and to put their human needs above the commercial interests of the parties vying for a share of the ship’s sale value. There are elements of this kind of approach that I would like to see more widely adopted across port States,” said Bernal.
“We have to remember that abandoned seafarers are not criminals – they are the victims in this situation,” she added.