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Plea for help from crew of stranded freighter

Plea for help from crew of stranded freighter

The crew of a Cambodian-flagged cargo ship detained in Cochin, India, and claiming

to have no fuel, food or fresh water, have appealed to the Cambodian Shipping Corporation

(CSC) for assistance.

The plea from the 30-man crew of the Wald Al Agouz, who have been stranded in Cochin

since the ship's April 14 court-ordered detention, comes after an abandonment of

the vessel by its United Arab Emirates owner, Abu Qurrah Oil. The company reportedly

bought Cambodian registration for the ship on May 25, 2000.

A May 9 letter sent by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to CSC

Chairman Khek Sakara reads:"The seafarers working on board [Wald Al Agouz] have

not received their wages for an impressive period of seven months... and rely exclusively

on voluntary and irregular donations from the local community; the owners of the

vessel have failed to reply to our numerous requests to provide their employees with

much needed food, water fuel and medical assistance. Therefore we ultimately address

yourself as the Flag State and request your prompt intervention as a matter of urgency."

CSC Chairman Khek Sakara confirmed having received the ITF request, and told the

Post on May 10 that while he was sympathetic to the crew's plight, his company had

no legal obligation to assist in the matter.

"It's not the responsibility of the flag state to deal with compensation,"

Sakara said. "Normally in cases in which a ship owner doesn't pay its crew,

the crew can [sell] the ship to receive the money they're owed."

According to the ITF, which has agreed to represent the crew of 30 Indians, Pakistanis,

Sudanese and Somalis on an emergency basis, both the ship and company which owns

it are notorious for their unfair treatment of their crews.

"[Abu Qurrah Oil] were also the owners [of Wald Al Agouz] in 1997... when the

crew asked for help because they had not been paid for an average of six months.

Threatened with [legal] action they eventually paid much of the money owed,"

said ITF spokesman Sam Dawson. "The ship is described as being in poor condition

and looks like an example of one where the owners have for years been breaking the

law. Either to cut costs further or in order to gain additional impunity, they appear

to have chosen Cambodia as the best place to register."

In the past year, the ITF has handled claims from the crews of six other Cambodian-flagged

vessels seeking unpaid wages. David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary, says the CSC

must ultimately take responsibility for instances in which it has contracted the

Cambodian-flag to devious ship owners and operators.

"Cambodia risks squandering the international sympathy it previously attracted

when it runs a [Flag of Convenience] register that assists those carrying out activities

that run from degrading to criminal," Cockroft told the Post. "It may bring

in money, but at what cost? At the cost of defrauded crews and the name of Cambodia

being dragged through the mud."

The ITF has also expressed concern that the Wald Al Agouz lacks an official classification,

which its says facilitates the use of old, unsafe vessels on the high seas.

"From the data on Seaway [a cargo shipping database], it is alarming to see

that the majority of ships on the Cambodian register have no class mentioned on their

details at all. This reflects very badly upon the owners of the ships concerned and

the register, which is prepared to tolerate a large proportion of unclassed tonnage

on its books," a 2001 ITF briefing document on the Cambodia Shipping Corporation

states.

"It demonstrates clearly the accusation that a register like Cambodia exists

to provide a home for rubbish which would no longer be able to operate in, for example,

the Russian or Turkish fleets. As these countries themselves have a record for Port

State Control detentions which is not admirable, it can be deduced that the Cambodia

register provides opportunities for continued trading for ships which should have

been scrapped."

According to Seaway statistics, ships that pay for Cambodian registration are an

average of 24 years of age, compared to twelve years and 16 years for competing Flag

of Convenience states Liberia and Panama.

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