Ships Crew Abandoned Without Supplies of Food, Water or Fuel
PHILIPPINES – There is never a good time to be abandoned at sea on a ship with no rudder and dwindling supplies of food, water and electricity, but certainly the situation is further exacerbated when the world is in the grip of a global pandemic.
Such are the circumstances suffered by the crew of fifteen aboard the MV Celanova (IMO 9268394). With batteries running low on their mobile phones, the crew who are trapped 13 nautical miles out at sea have been making calls for urgent assistance as the vessel is running dangerously low on the fuel and diesel oil and food, fresh water and medicines needed to ensure their survival.
The 7,600 gross tonne MV Celanova is a Spanish flagged LPG tanker owned by GLOBALGAS SA, Madrid, Spain. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) tells us the company has left the crew without pay for months and begging for vital provisions.
On 7 December 2019 the tanker broke down and lost its rudder off the Philippine coast. Ten days later it was towed to anchor in Manila Bay. Philippines Port State Control detained the vessel on 14 February after authorities found it to be in breach of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) over unpaid wages following notification by the ITF.
Most alarmingly the LPG tanker was forced to discharge its dangerous cargo of Butadiene gas to another vessel on March 7, as the vessel was running out of the bunker fuel needed to keep the gas refrigerated. Some of the Spanish and Caribbean crew have been on board since August, others since November.
The ITF is urgently requesting Filipino authorities to allow the ship into port to facilitate assistance from the flag state and the vessels insurers, the American Club. Local authorities have agreed but only on condition a tug is provided alongside the tanker and on standby while she is moored. Luz Baz, ITF Coordinator, Spain commented:
“Since February 21, when I was first informed of the case, there have been thousands of WhatsApp messages. I’m in touch with them daily. But now the ship is in total blackout. I’ve worked over 14 years as an ITF inspector, I have dealt with many abandoned vessels so far and this is the first time someone has asked crew pay tug hire.
”The ship needs to be in port. The crew can’t start the engine. Something has to be done. The crew are desperate. They need fuel, fresh water, provisions, medication, safety parts. The situation is seriously compromising the safety and health of a crew. They are exhausted after suffering months of enormous stress.”
Over the past months the texts sent by the crew have built up a picture of an ever worsening position on board where they have been sleeping on deck as there is no air conditioning, but storms on Sunday night drove them below. One message seemingly from a woman crew member, said ‘We are eating something that three months ago we would have never thought we would have to eat’, whilst ‘Pedro’ texted the ITF on Sunday saying:
“We are strong people, but we are exhausted and now bad weather and no option to do anything if [the] vessel drag[s] the anchor. I hope Monday could be finished this and next week could be able to berth. Under the present condition is very dangerous our situation. We will survive until Monday.”
The ITF has written to the Maritime Authorities in Manila warning the ship and its crew were at enormous risk of potential anchor drift, fire on board or accident due to having no capacity to manoeuvre but, despite the Philippines being a signatory to the MLC requiring governments to facilitate crew repatriation during abandonment, no action has been taken.
The ILO abandonment report says communications have been maintained with the ship’s owner and instructions have been given to provide food and fuel. A flag state surveyor was on board from February 27 to March 2 to check the real situation, the ILO reported. The Spanish Maritime Administration says it is focused on getting crew members repatriated and working together with all stakeholders including the ITF.
The Spanish government has also contacted the Philippine government requesting the ship be docked in safe port according to ILO reports. Ship’s master Rolando Garcia Alarcon warned the ILO the ship has serious technical deficiencies. He requested authorisation for the ship to berth, based on humanitarian and safety reasons citing the ship being without a rudder, fuel and lights.
The master also reported the vessel’s chains and anchors were damaged. Garbage on deck also poses a health risk and the crew and ship especially in the case of fire, he said. The ITF has written to the International Labour Organization requesting their intervention. The plight of the crew is of course further complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and also allegedly by the Spanish mortgage bank ABANCA, which is reportedly frustrating attempts to sell the vessel to help finance the owner’s debts.
It seems the Celanova is not the luckiest of ships. In 2018 she was boarded by Yemeni Houthi rebels in Hodeidah and was held there for several weeks before finally being released.