Pretoria: 17 February 2022
It will be a while, if ever again, that crew of a set of vessels reportedly abandoned at the port of Durban will face inhumane conditions, largely characterised by starvation – thanks to the generosity of South Africans during the last month that has ensured them enough food and other necessities supplies.
This is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) seafarers’ welfare office in Durban, which together with two other non-governmental organisations, the Mission to Seafarers and Meals on Wheels SA set the alarm in January after the 18 crew members were found to be starving on board the three vessels which have been declared abandoned by the IMO in January 2022.
The vessels involved, two of them – the PSD2 and PSD104 are sister offshore supply vessels that are both Tanzanian flagged, while the third, the MT Fairy Tale – is a Belize registered tanker.
The MT Fairy Tale and the PSD2 had been at the port of Durban for over five years while the third (the PSD104, the second of the Tanzanian registered) had docked at the port in January 2022. The seafarers on board include 11 Indians, one (1) Iranian and six (6) Bangladeshi nationals.
According to SAMSA Manager for Occupational Health, Safety and Seafarers’ Welfare, Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe, not only did groups of South Africans respond positively, speedily, with donations that have ensured enough food and other necessities supplies, but the widely publicised plight of both the seafarers as well as the vessels themselves drew attention of both the owners as well as the Indian government’s attention.
Support was also being received from the International Transport Federation (ITF) which had assisted the crew members arrest the vessels, anyhow, following complaints from the crew, and which matter was now set for the courts, according to SAMSA.
“The media has really helped put pressure on the owners,” said Mr Rantsoabe, adding: “They have been coming on board trying to reach settlements with the crew and telling them they saw the story in the media. One of them was very embarrassed about the diesel story and started providing diesel and he had not done so in five (5) months.
“The crew are now also able to contact their families through the generosity of the Mission to Seafarers who provided them with Wi-Fi routers.
“The International Transport Federation has also provided money for food via the Mission to Seafarers, which is used to supplement whatever is provided by the two charity organisations.
“At the moment the seafarers are very grateful and feel that they have enough food to last them through February. The ITF has also procured fuel for the two vessels that can take fuels, which will help run the engine and generators.
“We have also received calls from charity organisations such as NEDFEST… (such that) presently food supplies will not be an issue again for this crew,” he said.
Their movement outside the vessels was still restricted, however, and therefore not allowed to leave the port. The difficulty said Mr Rantsoabe; was with the fact that the vessels did not have Port Agents who assume official direct responsibility for vessels and crew once in the country’s ports.
However, SAMSA facilitated a dialogue with the port authorities (Port Health, Immigration, SAPS, TNPA) who in the end, working jointly together with Shipmed and Mission to Seafarers; made the vaccination of all the seafarers possible on Wednesday last week (09 February 2022). They were transported under SAPS escort to a vaccination clinic.
“They were all smiles after vaccination,” said Mr Rantsoabe
Mr Rantsoabe further reported that a week ago, he and SAMSA Durban region Principal Officer, Captain Gqwetha Mkhize accompanied a team from the Indian Consulate to the PSD2 and PSD104 vessels. “They stated they will be putting pressure to the Flag State and the owners’ country using diplomatic means (State to State basis).”
On how long it can take to have both the situation of the crew and vessels resolved, Mr Rantsoabe said: “Unfortunately that question is difficult to answer. Normally once SAMSA gets involved things move quickly and the company pays.
“Detention does work because the owners normally want to get the ship out of the port as soon as possible. However, in the case of the Fairy Tale there is no hurry. The vessel is not going anywhere unless somebody buys it. So as SAMSA we can fine and detain but detaining a vessel that does not intend moving out becomes just a futile exercise, especially when owners pay the fines, but detention remains.
Remarking on the latest developments regarding the crew of the vessels, SAMSA deputy Chief Operations Officer, Captain Vernon Keller applauded the effort of all those involved, including the role the media played in sharing the plight of the seafarers, but added that as far SAMSA was concerned; “it is an amazing effort by the SAMSA team…but our job is not done.”
Said Capt. Keller; “Our seafarers kept this world moving forward throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, transporting essential cargoes around the world, yet seafarers struggled to let the world understand that they are essential workers.
“They were forced to spend more time onboard their vessels unable to go home, some even lost their family members and could do nothing about it. The psychological effect that this pandemic had on the seafarer will be studied for years to come.
“As an ex-seafarer, it pains me to know that there are still seafarers who are being treated even worse than during the pandemic by unscrupulous ship owners and managers. Administrations should stand up across the world and say enough is enough. If these seafarers were airline crew, the world would stand up and listen, so why are we not affording seafarers the same respect. Seafarers have truly become the forgotten few.