Skeleton crews keep up ships to nowhere

A skeleton crew is manning the Hanjin Scarlet container ship that is hunkered down in Plumper Sound, between North Pender and Saturna islands.

It has relocated after two months in waters off Prince Rupert and a subsequent visit to Vancouver, where it offloaded cargo and spent $8,000 on provisions, said Peter Lahay, Vancouver-based national co-ordinator with the International Transport Workers Federation.

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The ship and its crew are caught in the middle of the financial collapse of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping, once the seventh largest container-shipping company in the world. It went into receivership at the end of August, and creditors are seeking billions of dollars.

The Scarlet crew’s morale collapsed and fresh food ran out during their two-month stay off Prince Rupert, Lahay said. Only dry, frozen and tinned goods were left.

Lahay visited the ship in late October. His group boards and inspects ships and responds to complaints from foreign crew.

Crew members “were just happy to see another human being. Their jaws were dropping,” he said. “There was joy on their faces. They started to dance.”

Subsequent arrangements permitted the vessel to travel to Vancouver to unload its cargo.

Crew members due to head home after their contracts expired stayed to monitor unloading of cargo. The remaining crew went to the nearby Mission to Seafarers office to pick up Internet cards to contact their families and other items before returning to the ship.

The Scarlet has restocked and has fresh produce on board again, Lahay said.

Carlos Asturias, the chief cook on the Hanjin Scarlet, sent an email to Lahay on Friday saying that the vessel has stocks and provisions to last until the middle of December and that there is enough water on board.

Asturias thanked Lahay profusely for helping the crew. He has shared a donated cellphone with a fellow crew member so they can contact their families in the Philippines.

The Hanjin company has promised to provide everything crew members need as long as they are onboard, Asturias said.

As well, the manning agency in the Philippines has assured the crew that they will be able to disembark when their contracts are up, or in case of any emergency, he said.

The crew is being paid, Lahay said, but has been whittled down to 13 from 24. It has Korean officers and Filipino crew members.

“That’s not a sailing crew. That’s a crew that will just be maintaining the vessel [for] safety and security while she is at anchor.”

This includes keeping up with the painting inside and running engines. The complexity of shutting down a vessel and then bringing it back up brings risks. “There’s no guarantee things work when you try to start them up again,” Lahay said.

The 837-foot-long Scarlet is owned by Hanjin Shipping. It and the Hanjin Vienna have been anchored off B.C. for more than two months as a result of the company’s bankruptcy.

These ships were arrested and detained in this area.

The Vienna is a familiar sight off Victoria’s Dallas Road, where it has been moored at Constance Bank. It is owned by a German firm and is managed by Reederei NSB, also of Germany, which is taking care of the crew and vessel. It is leased to Hanjin.

Lahay has met with a representative of the owner. The Filipino crew on the Vienna are working on nine-month contracts, he said, adding some of the crew members on board have been switched out as their contracts came to an end.

“I think everything is pretty OK there.”

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