Officials from Fiji’s Labour and Immigration departments and Goundar Shipping are reportedly meeting today to discuss the status of three Filipino seamen who claim they have been abandoned by their employer, and are owed back pay and fares home.
The three, who have been asked to be called by their nicknames ‘Raffy’, ‘Ace’ and ‘Sabu’ were all recruited by Goundar Shipping, which runs interisland shipping services. Raffy is an engineer and has been in Fiji since 2019. Sabu, also an engineer and Ace, a deckhand, arrived in March last year.
They say on February 12th, with the permission of their captain they left their vessel, the Lomaiviti Princess IX to speak with a representative of the International Transport Federation in Lautoka about how they could arrange passage home at the end of their contracts. But on their return to the vessel two days later, they were informed their contracts had been terminated and that they could not rejoin the vessel.
“They abandoned us in Ellington [Wharf] and we had nowhere to go,” said Luffy.
“We had to sleep in the street because Ellington Wharf and the town is a long way [apart]. So there was nowhere to go. At that time it was already ten in the evening so no more taxi, no more bus. And that’s the problem, the curfew, what if the police caught us? That would be another problem for us. So we waited for the morning and then came to Suva.”
“We don’t have any money, any food,” Ace added.
“When we can to Suva we came directly to the office [Goundar Shipping] to ask what was happening…what’s their plan. And they just said, no more, you’ve already deserted.”
“And they said, they don’t care us anymore,” said Sabu.
“I told the president of the company sir if you are going to terminate us, then you should send us home. They said you find your own way to go home. We can’t do anything.”
When Islands Business called Goundar Shipping boss, George Goundar for a comment he told us, “I don’t have time for that nonsense,” adding that the company has a contract and would let the government handle the matter before ending the call.
Raffy denies he has a contract, saying it expired six months after his arrival, in September 2019. He says since then he has been working with a valid work permit, but no contract.
The men are now being cared for by community members, but their future remains uncertain.
“We don’t know what’s ahead tomorrow,” Luffy said. “We’re living in different place[s] but it’s very hard. We cannot stay in one place, one family is living there so we cannot stay there for good, so [we move] to another place again.
“Goundar has the power.”
The men all remit their earnings home.
Luffy supports his siblings, “[I am the] breadwinner for my brother and sister. We are living in one house. The problem now is how I can pay the rent.”
Ace supports his partner and child. “Right now I can’t support my son, because my son is just two years old. So every time when I get paid here, I send the money back home to buy some stuff, milk, for my baby, but now, I can’t do nothing because I have no job here and even now we don’t have enough money to support ourselves. So that’s why it’s very hard.”
Sabu supports both his parents and his sister, who is still studying. “We just want to get what is right for us.”
The men are concerned about their reputations. “We don’t know if we are blacklisted to other companies now because we have this trouble,” said Ace. “Our career is also at risk. That’s a big problem if we get blacklisted.”
They are also concerned about how the costs of returning home will be covered, for flights, quarantine both in Manila and their home island, and COVID swab tests.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation claims there are more than 20 Filipino seafarers who have been “tricked” by Goundar Shipping “into flying to Fiji to operate and maintain its fleet of passenger and cargo ferries with promises of decent wages and conditions.” ITF Inspector Sarah Mcguire, who is based in Australia, said Goundar is refusing to send them home as agreed.
“When they arrived, the company informed the seafarers that they would be paid 60-70 percent less than what they were promised,” she added. Raffy, Ace and Sabu make similar allegations about a discrepancy between the salary promised in the contract they signed in the Philippines and what they received once in Fiji.
Human Rights at Sea, an international NGO which has been working to highlight the matter remains concerned. "When speaking with the seafarers through those humanitarians providing direct welfare support in Fiji, it is clear they have been grossly let down by their employers and cast aside with little if no consideration as to the impact the loss of employment and wages will have on them and their families. Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar story. Fortunately, it has attracted international press attention without the case being fully hidden behind the corporate veil,” said Chief Executive Officer, David Hammond.
Pacific Island nations risk being left behind in the race to decarbonise the shipping industry, despite leading the way on this issue at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Dr Peter Nuttall, who is the Scientific and Technical Advisor for the Micronesian Center for Sustainable Transport at the University of the South Pacific, says change is happening at an almost “terrifying speed, it’s a global revolution” and the Pacific is not keeping up.
“Ten years ago when I started building this global research program, we were told there would be hydrogen engines by 2050; there are hydrogen ships today, there will be mainstream hydrogen ships operating by 2030. There will not be fossil fuel ships – that is the speed with which the industry and technology is moving. There is a huge risk we will get left behind, an enormous risk that we will get left behind.”
Shipping contributes some 3% of the world’s annual carbon emissions, and Dr Nuttall warns that the Pacific will be left paying carbon levies and fuel taxes if we can’t keep step with the transformation the industry is already undergoing.
Since 2015, the Marshall Islands has been leading a Pacific crusade at the IMO—emboldened by the fact that 12% of the world’s ships sail under the Marshallese flag, and spurred by the vision of the late Marshallese foreign minister, Tony deBrum, to cut shipping emissions.
“I think they’ve done a brilliant job of displaying their leadership,” says Dr Nuttall. “They’ve used their leadership to coagulate a coalition of high ambition countries to really try and drive this agenda of decarbonisation at the IMO.”
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The captain of the MV Young Blood, Thompson Alick Enrel, told Islands Business that passengers were relieved when they showed up beside the sinking ship. The stern was submerged and passengers had boarded life rafts when rescuers arrived. All those rescued were disembarked safely when the MV Young Blood docked into Port Vila later that day.
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DESPITE the passionate plea of a coalition of Pacific leaders, the world’s leading shipping organisation has failed to agree to urgently tackle the industry’s impact on climate change. After a two-week meeting in London last month,the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed to cap emissions of sulphur from ships, which are a cause of air and sea pollution, but on greenhouse gases agreed only to some further monitoring and a fresh round of negotiations.
Campaigners across the world and in the Pacific have condemned the IMO’s lack of urgency on the issue. Potential measures to reduce greenhouse gases have been delayed to 2023, which campaigners said was too late. It was just as anticipated, a collision of the Pacific and the shipping world and sparks flew behind closed doors at the UN negotiations to deliver a climate deal for the industry. While the plea by the coalition of ministers and ambassadors from the the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, Palau and the Solomon Islands won some support.it did not change the mindset of the 172-member IMO.
Their submission for the industry to make radical emissions cuts to align the sector’s emissions with a global target to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was supported by France and Belgium and other IMO member states including those from the EU, UK, Canada, Bangladesh, Bahamas, Scandinavia and NZ.
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