Foreign trawler crew stranded here awaiting wages

By Leon Berenger

The authorities have arrested a foreign fishing craft that docked into Colombo Port earlier this year, after the owning company failed to pay its crew their due wages, an official with the International Transport workers Federation (ITF) said yesterday.

Colombo ITF representative Ranjan Perera said that procedures were under way to auction the boat and the proceeds utilised to pay the all-foreign crew stranded here since they entered the port in the first week of February.

He said that from the original crew of 27, only 10 members continued to remain on board, demanding their dues, before deciding to leave to their respective countries. The vessel, ‘Yu Far’, hijacked earlier by Somali pirates in May 2010, was later released in February, and arrived in Colombo, since it was the closest port of call, Mr. Perera said.

He added that the local agent for the boat company was also in constant touch with the crew members, spending much of its resources to provide for their upkeep, until the wage matter is settled. “However, this is not enough. The agent is fully responsible and must take the immediate initiative towards settling the matter, since the vessel is now turning out to be a hindrance at the port,” Mr. Perera said.

He added that, on one occasion police had to be summoned after the crew turned violent and posed a threat to other port users. According to investigations by the ITF here and elsewhere, the vessel is owned by a Taiwan-based company known as the Chiun An Fishing Company and is currently bankrupt, Mr. Perera said.

Shiran Fernando with Yu Fa Lanka Pvt. Ltd., told the Sunday Times that several attempts to reach the vessel’s owner in Taiwan had proven futile, suggesting that the company was bankrupt. At one stage, we sold off large stocks of tuna that was stored in the boat’s freezers, in order to meet our expenses. Now all our attempts are focused on selling off the boat in order to pay the crew and send them off to their respective countries at the earliest.

Mitau Makau, a spokesperson for the crew told the Sunday Times, “We will not budge until are dues are paid in hard currency and it is inserted firmly in our pockets”. “The company offered us 50% of our dues, advising us to collect the balance from the agent in our respective countries, and advised us to leave Colombo. But we disagreed, and the local ITF office in Colombo backed us in our decision,” Mr. Makau said.

Merchant Shipping Director General A.W.H.S.S.R. Weerakoon said that the vessel was arrested following a complaint made to courts by the crew. “The next procedure will be to auction the vessel at the earliest, if the defendant fails to show up,” Mr. Weerakoon said.

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