The marine department director of Egyptian government-owned National Navigation Company has accused 11 sailors of ‘‘hoodwinking everyone’’ after they claimed they were mistreated while stationed in Port Kembla last month.
Captain Yasser Hossny arrived in Wollongong this week to refute ‘‘ridiculous and false reports’’ made during a week-long industrial stand-off on the Wadi Alkarm.
Though four crewmen elected to take plane tickets bought by the company and head home within days of the dispute erupting, seven sailors who waited until they were paid on September 11 were transported to Sydney Airport with no security or customs officer present.
They never boarded their plane.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said six of the men had been granted temporary visas, while another man remained in the country as an ‘‘unlawful non-citizen’’. His whereabouts are unknown.
“If there is no legal entitlement for a non-citizen to remain in Australia, they are expected to depart and may be detained and removed from Australia as soon as practical,’’ the spokesman said.
He said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was the competent authority responsible for the regulation of the Maritime Labour Convention and its requirements in Australia.
Capt Hossny said the crewmen had ‘‘abused the empathy and sympathy of the good Australian people’’.
‘‘From the beginning we suspected they would like to be illegal immigrants...from the allegations they made,’’ he said.
The dispute began when the sailors told International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) representatives the Wadi Alkarm’s captain had halved their wages while at sea, had begun charging exorbitant prices for goods, and were not allowing sailors to eat between 7pm and 7am.
As the dispute escalated, crewmen told the ITF their families in Egypt had been threatened.
Capt Hossny refuted all the claims, and provided documentation showing that rather than the $9 that crew members claimed they were paying for a can of Pepsi, it was in fact $9 for a carton of 24.
He said striking crewmen had told the ship’s cook to remove food from the fridge to support their claims.
‘‘Once we heard these allegations we reported it to the Egyptian embassy...and we instructed the captain to give every crew member a prepaid card...to contact their families and to make sure that they are OK,’’ he said.
‘‘We are a publicly controlled company and if this allegation is true, we would not be able to continue.’’
Capt Hossny said crew members further deceived authorities by showing the ITF payment records for only half their wages when the other half was being sent back to Egyptian bank accounts in line with international law.
Maritime Union of Australia Southern NSW Branch secretary Gary Keane was heavily involved in negotiations between striking crewmen and the Wadi Alkarm’s owners.
He said although there had been a ‘‘mix-up in communication between the skipper and company’’, he maintained the ITF had done its job assisting striking crewmen.
‘‘The ITF brief in all this is to make sure seafarers internationally, wherever they come from, are treated decently,’’ he said.
Mr Keane said proof of the sailors’ mistreatment was the way they were held up before getting their final payments on the day their plane home was due to leave.
He said despite the money being on board at 4pm, crew were not paid until after 7pm, and had been due to board a 9.50pm international flight in Sydney.
‘‘I think that could have been done far better,’’ Mr Keane said.
‘‘I know they were scared, they were very concerned about what would happen to them when they went home. The way it was dealt with was a debacle.’’
Jumping ship a hard one to stop
National Navigation Company Marine Department director Yasser Hossny has said he was unable to guarantee incidents similar to the Wadi Alkarm fiasco would not occur again.
He said while the company was treating its workers in line with the Maritime Labor Convention, it was impossible to stop sailors who wanted to jump ship and enter Australia illegally.
‘‘We understand very well their point of view that Australia is a beautiful country, a prosperous nation,’’ Capt Hossny said.
He said confirmation the seven crewmen did not board their plane in Sydney came from the company’s Australian immigration liaison agent, working for Wilhelm Ship Services.
The Federal Immigration Department confirmed six of the men made applications for further visas and had been granted temporary visas, while another man had disappeared into the community as an ‘‘unlawful non-citizen’’.
It is not the first time crews from NNC have jumped ship.
In late July this year, it is understood three NNC crewmen aboard the Wadi Feran threw themselves overboard in Gladstone Harbour with the hope of making it to shore. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said all those involved had since left Australia.
‘‘No visa applications were made.”
Mission to Seafarers Port Kembla Reverend John Kewa has also come into contact with Egyptian sailors seeking asylum.
In August last year, he received an unexpected visit from a man named Mohamed Abd Algadel, asking the mission for money.
The man had jumped ship in Port Kembla when the vessel came to shore and spent time living with friends in Lakemba until his money ran out.
Mr Kewa said he had suspected the 11 Egyptian sailors had planned to enter Australia illegally prior to arriving in Port Kembla.
‘‘I had a feeling there was something they weren’t telling me,’’ he said.
Due to complaints over lack of food, Mr Kewa offered to organise a barbecue for the men.
However, they refused and when asked what they needed the most, the men told Mr Kewa they wanted broadband internet.
‘‘When they didn’t make it on to the aeroplane, I was shocked but not surprised.’’