Saturday, August 06, 2011
Twenty crew members on board an oil tanker anchored near Kau Yi Chau were a step closer to getting US$149,035 in unpaid wages yesterday after Admiralty judge Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes ordered the appraisal and sale of the ship to settle outstanding bills. Jason Lam Wai-hong, assistant head of the International Transport Workers Federation in Hong Kong, said the crew of South Korean officers and Myanmese seamen had not been paid for six months. Lam said the crew would have "first priority" when proceeds from the sale of the ship were distributed among creditors. The ship, the 3,389 deadweight tonne tanker Samho Garnet, was arrested in April by lawyers acting on behalf of a Norwegian ship-investment fund, which is owed more than US$3.2 million in unpaid rental payments on two other ships. One of these vessels, the 19,924 deadweight tonne tanker Samho Jewellery with 21 crew on board, was hijacked by Somali pirates on January 15. The ship was freed six days later by South Korean commandos. All the ships are owned by financially troubled maritime company Samho Shipping, which is under court protection in South Korea. Creditors of Samho Shipping have had three other Samho ships held in Hong Kong since June. Lam said the Samho Garnet could be sold to a new owner next month. Sale proceeds will be paid into a special bank account and used to pay the crew, who will then be repatriated, and other creditors.Reyes said firms and organisations owed money related to the Samho Garnet would have 45 days to lodge claims once the ship was sold. Claimants are expected to include United Bunkering and Trading, which is owed for unpaid fuel. Lam said the crew on board the ship applied for legal aid last week to help in making the claim for unpaid wages. The crew are also being assisted by the Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong. The local office of law firm Blank Rome seized the Samho Garnet of behalf of GSHI Chem-Prod Carrier II, an investment fund managed through Acta Holding. Samho Shipping was not legally represented in yesterday's Admiralty Court hearing. Lam said the federation was also helping 13 crew members on board the S Nicole, a 77,096 tonne dry-cargo bulk carrier, which is under arrest at the southeast Lamma anchorage. He said talks were under way between the federation and lawyers representing a South Korean bank to see if the bank would pay the crew. Shipping industry insiders said the captain on the S Nicole had not been paid for about five months, while the 12 Myanmese crewmen were owed about six months' wages. Lam said if the Korean bank did not agree to pay the outstanding wages, "the crew must go to court". Of the two other Samho ships held in Hong Kong, Reyes ordered the valuation and sale of the 13,153 tonne tanker Samho Cordelia last month for unpaid mortgage payments owed to Singapore's DVB Group Merchant Bank. A sister tanker, the 13,153 tonne Samho Gloria, was arrested last week.