By Keith Wallis
HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) on Thursday called on the city's authorities to provide assistance to the crew of a Hong Kong-flagged coal ship off the east coast of Australia that is running out of food and fuel.
Local Australian media and Great Britain's Guardian newspaper reported this week that the Five Stars Fujian, a 180,000 deadweight tonne capsesize class coal carrier, has been sitting in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef for the past month with supplies diminishing and salaries going unpaid.
The HKSOA said in a statement that the ship was under detention by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), off the port of Gladstone, for breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention relating to lack of provisions and unpaid wages.
"The Hong Kong Shipowners Association, while recognizing that Hong Kong has not yet had ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention extended to it by China, is extremely concerned about the welfare of the seafarers on the ship, and urges the Hong Kong Government... provide all necessary assistance to the seafarers," the statement said.
It added that the ship's crew "have effectively been abandoned by the owner of the ship, including the immediate supply of provisions and fuel, as well as the repatriation of the seafarers to their homes if requested by the seafarers."
It was not immediately clear who the owner or manager of the ship were.
Arthur Bowring, HKSOA's managing director, said "there might not be a legal obligation for Hong Kong to provide such facilities, but there is an extremely strong moral and ethical obligation to do so" as Hong Kong has the world's fourth-biggest merchant fleet.
Several shipping companies, especially in the dry bulk sector which includes coal and iron ore vessels, have gone bankrupt in what is considered the worst downturn in at least 30 years. An oversupply of ships amid slowing demand for dry bulk commodities pulled down freight rates to record lows earlier this year.
(Reporting by Keith Wallis; Writing by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)