Three Filipino crewmen have been left stranded in Fiji by their employers and manning agency. The seafarers have found themselves with few options and remain in limbo having contacted affiliated humanitarian support workers to Human Rights at Sea and provided firsthand testimony.
The crewmen, John Lyod Restauro, Janjan Bantilan, and John Kenneth Kadusale, were working for Goundar Shipping Limited, a Fijian registered passenger ferry company based in Suva. The men were hired through the Manila based manning agency, Able Maritime Seafarers Inc, which is licensed to operate under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Mr Restauro, who holds a Class 3 certificate, signed a six-month Overseas Employment Contract (OEC) for that skill level at the POEA but when he got to Fiji, Goundar Shipping Limited put him on the much lower level of DWR (Deck Watch Rating). Even though his contract expired in mid-September 2019, he was retained at Goundars for 18 months longer.
Messrs Bantilan’s and Kadusale’s contracts expired in mid-February 2021. Mr Bantilan signed two contracts at the POEA: a 12-month OEC as an engine cadet with a monthly salary of USD350, and the second as a greaser at the same rate but written in FJD (720). Mr Kadusale signed a 12-month OEC at the POEA as a messman with a monthly salary of USD450, but in Fiji he was paid USD255, or FJD520. The contracts were signed at the POEA office in Manila, which in itself raises further questions as to the legality of such a practice.
Throughout their contracts, the men allegedly were variously refused pay, paid only 50% of their Fijian contracted salaries, employed in a different capacity to that originally agreed, made to pay hospital consultation and medical prescription fees, told to pay for the renewal of their Fijian work permits, and denied access to welfare organisations and worker’s unions. Indeed, Mr Restauro worked far beyond his original contract length on the broken promise that Goundar Shipping Limited would eventually pay his outstanding wages (and in the absence of a renewed work permit).
On the 12 February 2021, with the consent of the Captain, the three men left the vessel, LOMAIVITI PRINCESS IX (IMO: 8702575) at Ellington Wharf, which is in a fairly isolated rural area of northern Viti levu to speak to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) representative in Lautoka.
On their return to the vessel on the 14 February 2021, they were informed that the consent had been withdrawn and so their contracts were terminated. They and their belongings were abandoned late at night with no access to food, accommodation nor transport to take them to Suva.
When the men eventually reached the office of Goundar Shipping Limited in Suva they were told that there were no repatriation flights due to the Covid-19 pandemic [HRAS has been informed that this is incorrect] and that in any event, they would have to pay for their own flights home.
Furthermore, because they had left their vessel on the 12 February 2021 they were told that they would not receive their outstanding wages due to a ‘breach of contract’. At first the shipping company also refused to return their travel documents, but through facilitation of local Fijians, their personal documents have now handed over.
The men’s position presently looks impossible but they remain in Fiji while awaiting their promised salaries and paid air fares home.
They are being directly supported in their daily welfare through the charity of ordinary Fijian citizens.
Human Rights at Sea has reached out to the stakeholders for comment.