Sea Breezes Editor, Hamish Ross

“Malaviya Seven”: A story that shames the world of shipping

As this edition of Sea Breezes was going to print, preparations were afoot at a city centre hotel in Aberdeen (North East Scotland) for the auction of the Indian vessel Malaviya Seven. The story of this vessel shames the shipping industry and shines a light on the often dreadful treatment of foreign crews sailing in UK waters.

In the summer of 2016, the Malaviya Seven, an offshore supply vessel, was first detained in Aberdeen after a routine inspection with its crew at that time owed £175,000 in outstanding wages from its Mumbai headquartered owners, GOL Offshore Ltd. After being released, the vessel was then detained again a few months later with a number of breaches highlighted which were never corrected due to GOL going into liquidation. As a result, the vessel and many of its crew were effectively forced to stay in Aberdeen for almost a year, until the conclusion of a court case which granted the crew the right to sell the vessel and claim their wages, now valued at around £600,000 – hence the auction taking place at an Aberdeen hotel.

There are two rather grim story lines attached to this incident. The first is the growing reliance on foreign crews in UK waters – for example in the North Sea, how does a responsible British company with British seafarers and a well maintained and managed vessel compete with foreign rivals willing to offer rates cut to the bone – this, of course, has been made worse by the low oil price of recent times. The second is truly disgraceful – the often flagrant treatment of foreign crews in vessels such as the Malaviya Seven. This is not an isolated case. In July, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) drew attention to the support it needed to give crews in three instances of vessels being abandoned in the UK (at Ellesmere Port, Sharpness and Leith). Almost unbelievably, as well as a failure to pay wages, a lack of drinking water was identified on one of those vessels.

These are intolerable working conditions in the second decade of the twenty first century with enforcement agencies in the UK now being encouraged to ensure that the provisions of the UK government’s Modern Slavery Act are implemented in the maritime sector. I have often passed comment in the pages of Sea Breezes about the lack of recognition given to the shipping industry in its important trade and economic role, and I have also spoken of the need to ensure the seafarers, on which the industry depends are valued and supported by their employers.

Aberdeen is one of my favourite ports in the world. From a bustling fishing hub in my younger days, it has thrived since the 1970s until recently, as a result of the North Sea oil and gas sector. But it is now associated with the terrible story of the Malaviya Seven, a vessel chartered on occasions by some supposedly respectable multinational companies who were unaware or simply not bothered about the conditions onboard.

Let us hope that a story such as this can be a turning point in terms of corporate responsibility within the shipping sector. We should not need the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act to tell us what is right or wrong in the world of maritime transport – an industry which we are all usually proud to be associated with.

HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR