The Latvian owned, Cambodian registered cargo ship Defender is due back in Cork Harbour next week (6 May) less than a month after her departure after a lengthy stay during which crew members had to strike because of appalling conditions onboard and non-payment of wages for several months totalling over €80,000. The nine crew members on that occasion had to call in their union, the International Transport Federation which sought the arrest of the ship. During the dispute it emerged that there was not even enough food onboard ship to sustain the crew on her return voyage.
This is not of course the first time that this 40 year old vessel has been the subject of industrial action in Cork port. In 2008 a similar dispute broke out involving a different crew who were subjected to the same treatment by their Latvian bosses and only last January the Defender was detained in a British port for the same reason.
The Irish goverment has stated its desire to get tough on Flags of Convenience ships, that is ships registered in countries with little or no worker protection legislation, low wages and inadequate safety rules. Yet they allow ships like the Defender to re-enter our ports despite their appalling record.
The Old Blog Cabin calls on the Irish government to ban such ships from entering ports here (unless it is an emergency where lives are at stake). There is now urgent need to extend such legislation on an European Union wide basis.
We have seen countries take extraordinary measures to protect ships and their crews from piracy in recent times, but there is another type of piracy evident here where workers can be treated like slaves in dirty, dangerous and ancient hulks of ships while at the same time being denied their basic rights and conditions. The Defender is due at the privately owned Passage West dock next Wednesday.