Applications have not been received to allow a new crew to come to Taiwan to relieve eight Indonesian sailors who have been stuck on their vessel for more than six months in Kaohsiung Port after its Hong Kong owner ignored requests to pay overdue wages and relieve them of their duties, the Maritime and Port Bureau said on Friday.
The men have been unable to leave their Togo-registered cargo ship since it was towed into Kaohsiung Port on Feb. 23 after it lost power near Taiwan’s territorial waters, said Chaplain Father Ansensius Guntur, who works with the nonprofit organization Stella Maris Kaohsiung — dedicated to migrants, seafarers and refugees — and has been visiting the sailors.
The bureau would only let the crew leave if a new crew could be sent to Taiwan to operate the ship to avoid it being abandoned, the Indonesian priest said last week.
Photo: Liu Yu-ching, Taipei Times
The bureau said it has not yet received any documents from the ship owner or other parties commissioned by the owner’s shipping agency to allow new crew members to enter Taiwan.
The bureau said it would process the applications as soon as they are received.
The ship’s owner is registered under a Hong Kong company.
The bureau’s statement comes at a time when the Indonesian sailors, who have not been paid since February, are desperate to return home to reunite with their families.
One of the sailors said on Wednesday that a party representing the vessel has agreed to pay for air tickets from Kaohsiung to Jakarta and related expenses for leaving Kaohsiung, and would also provide US$700 to each sailor.
In return, the sailors must agree to waive their rights to file civil and criminal claims and complaints, a draft statement of agreement showed.
The crew is leaning toward accepting the agreement, the sailor said.
The maritime bureau said it was aware of the issue, but it would not comment on what it considers a labor matter between a foreign owned ship and its non-Taiwanese crew.
The bureau said it “understands and respects the issue,” and has asked the Legal Aid Foundation to provide assistance to the sailors to ensure that their rights are protected.
With the help of Indonesia’s government, arrangements could be made for most of the sailors to return home before a crew exchange has been completed, leaving about a third of the crew to deal with navigation safety issues, the bureau said.
The sailors rejected that offer, as the dilemma of choosing who gets to go home is an insurmountable obstacle, Guntur said.
“All of them want to go home. Who will choose to stay in this case? Nobody wants to stay there anymore as there is no certainty that the ship owner will send over a new crew,” he said.
If the ship’s owner continues to ignore communications and crew exchange issues, the bureau said it would meet with relevant agencies to discuss auctioning the ship to obtain funds to pay the sailors’ wages and other expenses, without mentioning when such discussions might take place.
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