Seafarers onboard a Xihe Group-controlled ship under arrest at a Malaysian anchorage are becoming increasingly agitated after a three-month ordeal that has seen them trapped on the vessel without pay.

In total there are 25 crew members onboard the 298,000-dwt floating, production, storage and offloading vessel Sea Coral (built 1996), which was arrested through the Malaysian High Court by creditor HSBC in on 8 November.

The Sea Coral, a converted VLCC, is at the Johor Bahru anchorage in Malaysia.

The vessel's flag state, the Cook Islands, and protection and indemnity insurer, which is Gard, have stepped into try to resolve the situation.

A spokesperson for the Cook Islands said: “We have been working with Gard who have been proactive in comforting the crew on board and keeping them updated with developments.”

“We are in contact with the Master of the vessel who is doing his best to keep the crew calm.”

The parties are seeking to resolve the situation through the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC).

“The Cook Islands, as a member state that has ratified to the MLC 2006 convention, are involved in resolving the issue of unpaid wages and repatriate the crew members in the best way possible considering the current restrictions in place across the globe due to Covid,” the Cook Islands' spokesman said.

The vessel’s protection and indemnity and MLC cover is with Gard Singapore's office. It is understood that, under the terms of cover, four months wages are guaranteed in the case of abandonment. It is understood the parties involved accept the situation represents one of abandonment.

The vessel was operated by the now collapsed oil trader Hin Leong Trading under a charter arrangement with the Xihe Group which controlled the vessel. Ocean Tankers was appointed technical manager of the Sea Coral but was served with a termination letter from Hin Leong in October.

Financial difficulties

Following Hin Leong's financial difficulties EY was appointed judicial manager of Ocean Tankers. Restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus prevented the crew from being repatriated and payment to crew was suspended in November.

The situation become more complicated when Hin Leong creditor HSBC moved to arrest the vessel.

The 25 crew are made up of 14 Chinese, five Burmese, four Bangladesh, one Malaysian and one Indonesian. EY and Ocean Tankers declined to comment on the situation.

A final solution rests on upcoming Malaysian court hearings.

“There are hearings scheduled in the coming days in which we will be able to comment further on the outcome and hopefully resolve the immediate issue of the unpaid wages and a plan for the crew going forward,” the Cook Islands spokesman said.

Svein Buvik, chief external affairs officer at Gard, said the insurer put much effort into finding the best for seafarers in such cases.

"We assist and cover repatriation of crew, essential needs of the seafarers and up to four months of outstanding wages and entitlements in the event of abandonment," he said.

"For Gard, the safety and wellbeing of our seafarers will always remain top priority."