ITF Renders Aid to Romanian Crew in Canada


August 2014


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The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) recently secured more than $200,000 in back pay and repatriation costs for mariners from a runaway-flag ship docked in Canada.


Vince Giannopoulos, an ITF inspector with the SIU of Canada, led the effort to assist the 18 Romanian crew members and Russian captain of the Liberian-flagged, German- owned dry cargo ship MV Fritz. Some of the particulars concerning flights home for half of the crew members were still being resolved at press time, but three months of back pay had been obtained.


With the vessel docked in Oshawa, Ontario, the crew contacted the ITF (to which the SIU is affiliated) last month with a short but serious list of concerns. They hadn’t been paid for three months, and had been without stores for two weeks.


The SIU of Canada immediately threw its support behind the mariners and, along with local port personnel, members of the Romanian community and individuals from a nearby mission for seafarers, helped secure food, water and other supplies. Back pay was in place a few days later and crew members agreed to end a brief strike and unload most of the vessel’s cargo of 18,000 tons of steel pipes and coils. (The balance of the cargo was supposed to be delivered to Toledo, Ohio).


According to news reports, the Fritz arrived from Europe and had been anchored off the coast of Cornwall, Ontario, since mid- June without any contact from shipowner Intersee. With practically no food or water, the mariners desperately called out to passing fishermen and asked to borrow gear so they could catch food.


At that time, SIU of Canada President Jim Given said, “It is unfathomable that a crew could be left in this state…. It is ultimately the responsibility of the vessel owner to look after the crew but, failing that, seafarers look after each other and this crew deserves some dignity after what they have been through. The SIU of Canada stands proudly alongside this crew as they strike against the exploitation which they have endured.”


Giannopoulos credited the mariners for sticking together despite having been “abandoned.”


The ITF for decades has fought to protect crews around the world but especially those aboard runaway-flag or so-called flagof- convenience (FOC) ships. In defining an FOC, the ITF takes as its most important criterion whether the nationality of the shipowner is the same as the nationality of the flag. Where beneficial ownership and control of a vessel is found to lie elsewhere than in the country of the flag the vessel is flying, the ship is considered as sailing under a socalled flag of convenience.


The ITF campaign against FOCs, which was formally launched at the 1948 World Congress in Oslo in Norway, has two elements. One is a political campaign designed to establish by international governmental agreement a genuine link between the flag a ship flies and the nationality or residence of its owners, managers and seafarers, and thereby eliminate the FOC system entirely. The other is an industrial campaign designed to ensure that seafarers who serve on runaway-flag ships, whatever their nationality, are protected from exploitation by shipowners.


SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel serves as chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section.

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