Five cruise ships were arrested on UK wharves after crews went on hunger strike for unpaid wages while trapped aboard amid a coronavirus.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency boarded six ships Friday after reports of late payments had expired on ships docked in Bristol and Essex.
Athens-based Global Cruise Lines has limited five detained vessels and managing director Christian Verhounig said Sky News many of the crew were “naturally worried and anxious”.
The coronavirus lockout prevented many crew members from returning home, although they had been on board for more than a year in some cases. Most European workers have been sent home.
A number of expired and disabled seafarers’ employment contracts have caused problems for the shipping company.
“Our crew have endured a long quarantine period on board our vessels during the lockdown and are naturally anxious and distressed,” said Verhounig, adding that many were unable to return home.
The All India Seafarer and General Workers Union wrote to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this week. The letter said 164 Indian crew members on board Astoria had been “stuck in foreign waters for 90 days and needed help”. In the photo, the trapped crew are holding up signs
Astoria, Astor, Colombus, Vasco de Gama and Marco Polo are currently moored at Tilbury Docks in Essex, with Marco Polo at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol.
A sixth vessel, the Magellan, was inspected, but no significant deficiencies were found.
The All India Seafarer and General Workers Union wrote to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this week. The letter said 164 Indian crew members on board Astoria had been “stuck in foreign waters for 90 days and needed help”.
Some workers have gone on hunger strike to force the Indian government to take them home, it has been said.
The shipowner said that 50 of the 262 crew members had “gone on strike, including no longer doing routine maintenance on board.” He denied the existence of a hunger strike.
A member of the Astoria crew died of “ natural causes, ” which were thought to have been a heart attack.
There are also believed to be crews from Indonesia and Myanmar, some of whom will be flown back on Sunday.
Astoria was to set sail for Portugal, but will stay put until the problems are resolved.
Surveyors acting for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) found that the other ships contravened the Maritime Labor Convention.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “The well-being of seafarers is of the utmost importance and we take all reports of crew safety issues very seriously.
Global Cruise Lines, based in Athens, owns the five ships kept on the quays of Bristol and Essex due to expired contracts. In the photo, the cruise ship Magellan at Tilbury Docks in Essex, which was not retained because no significant gap was found
“As a result of today’s investigation, five vessels have been arrested and we will not hesitate to continue to use all of the powers under our control to protect the health and happiness of all seafarers currently working in the United Kingdom.”
MailOnline contacted Global Cruise Lined Limited for a comment.
Shipping records show that Astoria left Manzanillo, Mexico in mid-February and arrived in Poole, Dorset on March 10. He left Dorset on March 14 and arrived in Tilbury the next day, where he stayed during the lockdown.
Columbus sailed from Malta to Tilbury. The Magellan arrived at the port of Essex from Reykjavik, Iceland. Both have been there since April.
The Astor, which left Bremen in Germany and the Vasco da Gama from Cape Town to South Africa, have both been in Tilbury since May.
The Vasco da Gama had deposited Australian passengers at the end of March on Rottnest Island so that they could quarantine for 14 days before being authorized on the continent.
The Marco Polo arrived at Avonmouth Docks on March 22 from Aqaba in Jordan.
Safety and Marine Standards Director Katy Ware said: “This sends a very clear message that crew well-being remains a top priority for us as a flag and a port state.”
“We have to take care of the well-being and health of our hard-working sailors in the industry.”