Friday, November 15, 2013

Flag of Convenience Bulk Freight Ship really is a Mickey Mouse Operation

The Sad Case of the Donald Duckling Exposes the Seamier Side of International Freight
Shipping News Feature

UK – The latest case of a freight carrying vessel being held in port because of problems aboard highlights everything that is bad about Flags of Convenience. The Panamanian-registered bulk carrier Donald Duckling was detained by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency in Tyne Port this week after an inspection uncovered a long list of serious deficiencies and this is not the first time the sixteen year old ship has been on report and prevented from sailing.

Earlier this year, the vessel was detained for 121 days in Gibraltar after 21 safety deficiencies were found by port state control officers, and in September an inspection in Las Palmas found 33 deficiencies on-board. Maritime professionals union Nautilus and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inspector Tommy Molloy is helping the Romanian and Filipino crew members, and said the vessel was one of the worst examples of substandard shipping that he has encountered.

Whilst stranded in the UK, the crew had such poor food provisions that they were forced to catch fish from the side of the vessel which they had to cook on deck using dunnage because galley equipment was out of order whilst crew members had not been paid on time on a number of occasions and formal requests by two seafarers to be repatriated because of family illnesses had been ignored. When the Chief Engineer requested spare parts to rectify problems identified in the port state control inspections it seems he was summarily dismissed.

The ship is owned by TMT Shipping of Taiwan and had arrived in Tyne Port to load a cargo of scrap metal bound for Korea and Mr Molloy said the on-board contractual documentation for the Romanian and Filipino crew members was not in compliance with international Maritime Labour Convention requirements. He has written to the company requesting the payment of owed wages and the repatriation of some of the crew due to a breach of contract, in line with their contractual entitlement. He commented:

“The fact that the vessel has been detained for such periods of time and for the nature and scope of the deficiencies provides clear grounds, in line with their contracts of employment, for the crew to claim repatriation due to breach of contract. The vessel is clearly not seaworthy, which ought to be of grave concern to the charterers and cargo receivers and it is clear that the crew would have been placed into potential danger had the ship left port for the voyage.

“We are aware that TMT has been having problems, but this does not excuse the outrageous treatment of the crew in this case. The ship is called Donald Duckling, and it certainly is a shocking example of a Mickey Mouse operation that undermines operators who run to decent standards.”

TMT’s problems are both extensive and well reported. The company started life as Taiwan Marine Transport over fifty years ago and grew rapidly developing into the TMT Group, a diverse operation which itself filed for bankruptcy protection in the US earlier this year. TMT Shipping is an associated company and many of the group’s vessels have been laid up in ports around the globe for various reasons over the past few months. In a Court hearing in June the TMT Group claimed to have $1.52 billion in assets to its $1.46 billion in liabilities but its lenders were pressing hard for a sale of ships to realise their investments. TMT have launched a special website to keep interested parties appraised of developments whilst the group remains in Chapter 11 protection.