Authority demands access to Cyprus-registered cargo ship

THE International Transport Federation is to demand access to a Cyprus-registered ship due to land at the Aughinish Alumina plant in Foynes.

The MV Pontodromon, which carries 22 crew, is mainly manned by Filipinos and was the subject of an ITF inspection in April 2007. It is owned by Greek company Ocean Freighters.

On that occasion the ITF said one crew member was being mistreated and claimed its inspector was assaulted by a senior crew official while trying to defend that man. It said that crew member was being paid €800 for 300 hours work and conditions for the crew generally were “scandalous”. The ITF also claimed the crew were forced to sign disclaimers against the ITF.

The 226-metre long Cyprus-registered vessel is due to come into Foynes within the next fortnight and the ITF, which is affiliated to SIPTU, is expected to ask the union’s staff working in Aughinish not to unload the cargo until the ITF has assessed the conditions for the crew.

Representatives of the owners of the ship have written to the ITF telling them they “vehemently deny” the allegations of what happened previously as claimed by the ITF.

“The crew are paid a good wage and the vessel is in good condition. Most importantly, neither our clients nor the vessel’s crew have requested ITF assistance,” the representatives said in the letter. “As you are no doubt aware, there is no entitlement under Irish law for a trade union representative to enter and inspect the premises of an employer (including a ship) in circumstances where an employee has not requested such a visit and/or inspection.”

They warned the ITF would be refused admittance and said if it tried to influence workers not to unload the ship, they would take “all necessary legal steps”.

However, ITF inspector Ken Fleming said: “We have justifiable concerns that can be cleared up if access is given to this vessel. We are steadfast that this incident happened in April 2007 and that it can be proven. We do not want to inspect the ship itself. That is a matter for Port State Control. We just want to assess the condition of the crew as is provided for under International Labour Organisation rules.”

A spokesman for Aughinish said it would not comment on the situation, but would issue a press release in due course. However, it did say the matter was between the ITF and the ship’s owners. The ITF said companies receiving goods from shipping companies needed to stop putting commercial interests ahead of ensuring the company delivering the goods was not mistreating its workers.

Ocean Freighters has a number of ships around the globe and is being investigated by ITF authorities in Britain and Australia for “sweatshop” conditions.

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