Striking crewmen aboard an Egyptian coal carrier docked in Port Kembla have been offered plane tickets home after accusing the ship’s owner of mistreatment and refusing to travel any further.
The 11 men aboard the Wadi Alkarm told Australian International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) representatives they had been denied access to food and water daily between 7pm and 7am, and that they had their wages, of about $530 a month, halved while at sea.
But the men have reacted with scepticism to written assurance from the boat’s Egyptian owner, National Navigation Company, guaranteeing back pay and entitlements, and told the ITF they would not go anywhere until they received what was owed to them.
The ship first docked in Port Kembla on Thursday night and the crew immediately raised the alarm with ITF representatives.
The fiasco has created a headache for the Australian Immigration Department, which came under criticism from the ITF for initially revoking the men’s maritime visas, guaranteed under international law, and not permitting them access to shore.
The decision created delays for two crew members seeking medical attention for an ear infection and a pre-existing leg injury, while Maritime Union of Australia Southern NSW Branch secretary Gary Keane said another man was flown to Wollongong Hospital after suffering a ‘‘breakdown’’.
Mr Keane said initially, the Immigration Department told crewmen they would be transported to Villawood Detention Centre if they attempted to leave the ship for any reason.
Late yesterday, an Immigration spokesman confirmed ‘‘arrangements had been made for the affected crew to depart Australia’’.
But Mr Keane said the men would not leave until they received their entitlements, and were concerned for the welfare of the crew that would eventually replace them.
In addition to concerns over pay and access to food, the men also complained of the high price of goods aboard the ship, including bottles of mineral water being sold for $4.80 and cans of Pepsi for $10.80.
The ship’s owner is likely to send a replacement crew before it leaves Port Kembla. In the meantime, it will be moved from the coal loader to a second birth to allow normal operations at the port.
Mr Keane said there was nothing to suggest the men intended to stay in Australia.
‘‘They’re saying we just want to get off here and go home,’’ he said.
‘‘[They are] getting treated like shit on board.’’
The ship was due to transport coal to India.
The Egyptian Embassy failed to respond to requests for comment before deadline.