Eleven men aboard the Egyptian coal carrier Wadi Alkarm, currently docked in Port Kembla, have taken strike action after they were deprived of food and drink for 12 hours a day at sea.
Their situation became worse when Australia’s Immigration Department revoked the men’s maritime visas, which are guaranteed under international law, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
ITF Australia assistant co-ordinator Matt Purcell said the Egyptian government-owned coal carrier was in breach of the Maritime Labor Convention, and although Egypt is not a signatory they are bound by the convention while sailing in Australian waters.
“Not only are the men being starved at night, they have had their already paltry wages slashed by half, with no explanation from their boss,” Mr Purcell said.
“The men have also been called treasonous by their employer because they did the right thing and flagged their issues with the ITF.
“We have come to expect this kind of behaviour from some overseas governments and employers, but I never thought the Australian government would treat international seafarers with such disdain,” Mr Purcell said referring to the Department of Immigration pulling their visas.
“These blokes don’t have a desire to stay in Australia, they want to go home, and to be treated like criminals by Immigration is just not on.”
Maritime Union of Australia Southern NSW Branch secretary Gary Keane was aboard the vessel last night and this morning to check on the men’s welfare.
“The Immigration officials told them if they left the ship they would end up in Villawood Detention Centre,” he said.
Mr Keane said the men have stated they would not crew the ship and they would remain on strike at Port Kembla until their demands are met.
A couple of the men are also seeking medical attention, with Immigration reinstating their visa for that purpose.
“These men want the policy of no food between 7pm and 7am reversed permanently, not just until they sail out of Australian waters, and they want their previous wages reinstated with back pay from June when the wages were cut,” Mr Keane said.
“The men are resolved in their fight and I think Australians — who take their legally enshrined rights at work for granted — should support this crew in their endeavour.”