Given all the hoopla over seafarers’ rights and the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, one would think that double book-keeping has gone out of fashion – an atavism, a practice engaged in only by desperate shipowners seeking to cut crew costs. Not so, apparently. The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) says it stumbled on what it claims was a system of double book-keeping on board a Filipino-manned vessel during a routine ITF inspection in Liverpool, England. The Gibraltar-flagged ship is operated by Vega Friedrich Dauber GMBH & Co KG with crew supplied by Vega Manila Crewmanagement Inc in the Philippines. Without further comment, we’re posting the 7th October 2011 press statement issued by ITF London:

ITF alleges cheating of crew wages for ship docked at Liverpool

The ITF is alleging that the German operator of the 8,971GT Gibraltar-flagged container vessel Philipp (previously known as the Beluga Meditation) has been caught operating a double book-keeping system on the vessel in order to cheat the Filipino crew of their rightful wages.

The alleged scam was discovered by ITF/Nautilus union inspector Tommy Molloy during a routine inspection of the vessel in Liverpool.

“We often suspect double book-keeping is being operated on vessels we inspect”, said Molloy, “but it is unusual to get both sets of accounts – the fake accounts showing what the crew should be getting paid, and the real accounts which show they actually get paid approximately a third of what they should. I was also able to get hold of home allotment records – showing wages paid into banks – which were much less than those shown on the fake accounts. The amount of wages the crew had been cheated of was over USD230,000.00.”

Confronted with the evidence, both Vega Friedrich Dauber GMBH & Co KG and its subsidiary, Vega Manila Crewmanagement Inc, had no option but to admit to the discrepancy, and agreed to make payment in Liverpool on 4th October.

“Mr Vicente Fedelicio of Vega Crewing in the Philippines arrived on the vessel the night before,” Molloy continued. “In our opinion, the only reason for his presence was to intimidate the crew into handing their money back once we had left the vessel. He did not want us to know he was on the vessel the night before and both he and Captain Meyn of Vega Reederei strenuously denied he had been on board before the morning of the 4th October, even though we had seen their names in the visitors’ book when we boarded. Later, when leaving the vessel after payment had been made we noted that the relevant page from the visitors’ book had been ripped out.”

Captain Meyn of Vega Reederei signed a formal letter of indemnity stating that no action would be taken against any of the crew by the company or any of its associates and that no attempt would be made to induce the crew to return the wages recovered.

But Tommy Molloy was concerned that the crew were being threatened, and hours later he decided to return to the vessel. He asked the Port Police to accompany him in order to check on the welfare of the crew.

“When we arrived back on board it became immediately apparent that the company had taken back the wages they had so recently paid out. The company did not deny they had the wages back but insisted the crew had returned the money voluntarily. When questioned all but two of the fifteen crew, some barely able to speak and all with heads bowed, staring at the floor, stated they had voluntarily returned their wages as they did not want them! The same crew had been delighted to receive their wages only hours earlier.

“In my opinion, a high level of threat and intimidation has been levelled at the crew. I explained to Captain Meyn and Mr Fedelicio that an employer has a duty to ensure that the employee is paid in accordance with their contracts of employment and if they are offered the wages back by the employee as a ‘gift’ any decent employer would refuse and would insist his employee take the wages they are rightfully entitled to. But clearly, being decent seems to form no part of their agenda.”

“We will follow-up in subsequent ports in order to check on the welfare of the two crew members who courageously decided to hold on to their recovered wages.”

Tommy Molloy added: “The Gibraltar registry has been swift to respond to the situation and has said that it is ‘appalled at the reports’ and will investigate fully to establish whether any action by them is necessary. They clearly do not want to be associated with behaviour of the type that we believe has taken place in this case.

“We have advised the charterers of the situation and we will be contacting various supermarkets who are likely customers for the fresh food produce carried, in order to discuss their corporate responsibility policies. Fair trade should also extend to the workers who actually transport the goods from one place to another as well as to the growers. We would like to know if such companies are happy to tolerate the kind of abuse we believe we have uncovered here.”

The ship left Liverpool on 4th October en route for Bilbao and Dublin and is due to return to Liverpool on 11th October.

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