The crew of a VLCC controlled by Lebanese shipowner Ghassan Ghandour’s Hermes Marine Management claim they have been left unpaid, abandoned and held hostage on board their ship for over three months.

According to a statement from the 28 crew members of the 320,000-dwt tanker Chloe V (built 2011) sent to TradeWinds on Friday, Hermes halted salary payments when the vessel was arrested in Singapore in July over a charter-hire dispute with Koch Shipping.

The crew's plea highlights yet again the problems abandoned seafarers face when attempting to resolve their plight under the Maritime Labour Convention.

"The owners unilaterally severed their ties and stated their position that no one gets paid from their end, which is a definition of abandonment," the crew said.

Hermes said that, as manager of the Chloe V, it is "deeply concerned" about the situation but said the ship was wrongfully arrested by charterer Koch Shipping in a dispute over the vessel's scrubber.

"We are advised that, as arresting party, it is Koch who are now responsible for the expenses of the vessel under arrest. In addition, the mortgagee of the vessel is also responsible for the expenses, because, as per owners, it is preventing them from spending on lawful expenses," the ship manager told TradeWinds.

"We fully understand and sympathise with the crew’s predicament and would like to assure them that, we are working every way to alleviate the problems inflicted by Koch and the mortgagee."

TradeWinds has requested comment from Koch Shipping's US-based parent, Koch Industries. The owner of the ship is Chloe Navigation, a Marshall Islands-registered entity that is listed in ship databases as sharing an address with Hermes.

Expired contracts

Seafarers on the ship complained that their contracts have also expired and some have been on board for over a year.

Documentation provided to TradeWinds showed they had sent several complaints about unpaid salaries to the Hermes office in Piraeus.

On 4 September they asked for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to list them as abandoned. The ILO has yet to put the vessel on its list of abandonment cases.

On 13 September the crew announced their mass resignation, giving Hermes until 8 October to arrange their back wages and arrange for their repatriation.

According to a senior officer onboard the Chloe V, who was designated to speak on behalf of the crew, that deadline has now passed.

"The idea was to emphasise and highlight our terms in front of the head office," said the crew spokesman, who added that while it was within the crew's rights as per the flag state to resign.

"We are still ensuring the safety of the vessel at all times and will follow all related Solas [Safety of Life at Sea] procedures. There is no logical reason to continue any non-safety related operational task and/or remain on board."

Glacial pace

Marooned on board their ship in Singapore's Eastern Anchorage, the Chloe V's crew could wait for months before they receive their back wages and are sent home. Photo: a.canvas.of.light/Creative Commons

The crew, the spokesman said, was frustrated by the lack of action in response to pleas to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), the Marshall Islands flag, the International Maritime Organisation, the ILO and local authorities in Singapore.

An official at the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union, which assists abandoned seafarers in Singapore, confirmed that assistance was being provided to the crew, but had to work its way through legal processes.

Under the IMO and ILO's Maritime Labour Convention, the ship's protection and indemnity club must step in and repatriate the crew if the owner is incapable or unwilling to do so.

Legal sources familiar with the convention said such cases often move at a glacial pace, taking months to resolve.

P&I cover for the Chloe V is provided by the UK P&I Club, which is managed by Thomas Miller.

A representative from Thomas Miller's Piraeus office said she was unable to comment without permission from the ship's owner.

Hermes told TradeWinds that the dispute with Koch is centred on the ship's exhaust gas scrubber, which the ship's owner claims is defective.

But as the legal wrangling continues, the Chloe V's crew spokesman said the seafarers' back wages now exceed $350,000.

"We haven't been paid in three months. How are we and our families supposed to survive?"

Eric Priante Martin and Holly Birkett contributed to this story.