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Ship owner unresponsive about relieving crew on vessel stuck in Taiwan

Ship owner unresponsive about relieving crew on vessel stuck in Taiwan
William Yen 09/03/2022

Taipei, Sept. 3 (CNA) The Maritime and Port Bureau told CNA on Friday that it has not yet received applications to allow a new crew to come to Taiwan to relieve eight Indonesian sailors who have been stuck on their vessel for over six months in Kaohsiung Port after its Hong Kong owner ignored requests to pay back wages and relieve them of their duties.

The men have been unable to leave their Togo-registered cargo ship since it was towed into Kaohsiung Port on Feb. 23 after it lost power near Taiwan's territorial waters, according to Stella Maris Chaplain Father Ansensius Guntur, who has been visiting the sailors.

The Port Bureau will only let the crew leave if a new crew can be sent to Taiwan to operate the ship to avoid the ship being abandoned, the Indonesian priest said last week.

The bureau said it has not yet received any documents from the ship owner or other parties commissioned by the owner's shipping agency to allow new crew members to come to Taiwan. The bureau said it will process the applications as soon as it receives them.

The ship owner is listed on the ship's registration as a Hong Kong company.

The Maritime and Port Bureau's statement comes at a time when the Indonesian sailors, who have not been paid since February, are desperate to return to Indonesia to reunite with their families.

According to one of the sailors who contacted CNA on Wednesday, a party representing the vessel has agreed to pay for air tickets from Kaohsiung to Jakarta and related expenses for leaving Kaohsiung, and will also give US$700 (NT$21,443) to each sailor.

In return, the sailors must agree to waive their rights to file civil and criminal claims and complaints, according to a statement of agreement.

"I think now we don't need (the) court (to) handle our case," the sailor said. "So, we want follow the ship owner's (suggestion)."

When asked about the statement, the Maritime and Port Bureau said it was aware of the issue, but it was a labor matter between a foreign owned ship and its foreign employed crew.

The Bureau said it "understands and respects the issue," and has asked the Legal Aid Foundation to provide assistance to the sailors in order to protect their rights.

The Bureau also told CNA last week that it could arrange, with the help of Indonesia's government, for most of the sailors to return home before a crew exchange was completed, leaving about a third of the crew to deal with navigation safety issues.

The sailors have rejected that offer, however, as they have no way of choosing who gets to go home and who has to stay behind, Guntur said.

"All of them want to go home. Who will choose to stay in this case? Nobody wants to stay there anymore as there is no certainty that the ship owner will send over a new crew," Guntur said.

The Maritime and Port Bureau said if the ship's owner continued to ignore communications and crew exchange issues, it would meet with relevant agencies to discuss auctioning the ship to get funds to pay the sailors back wages and other expenses.

The bureau did not say when such discussions would take place.