Story by Fawwaz Baktee

Hanjin Rome - Onboard the Floating Prison

Unaware that their company back in Korea had gone bust, the 24-man crew onboard container vessel Hanjin Rome got a rude shock as they were placed under court arrest during what they thought was a routine docking at the Singapore port to resupply (Photo Source: NTUC This Week)

29 days. That’s how many days 36-year-old Captain Mun Kwon-Do and his crew members have been stranded at sea.

Thankfully, on 14 September, the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) and the Federation of Korean Seafarers Union (FKSU) managed to visit the vessel and its crew members.

Greeting the union representatives and this writer enthusiastically, Captain Mun’s eyes betrayed him and showed his worries.

Who wouldn’t be worried? Back home in Korea, Hanjin Shipping Co. filed for receivership after drowning itself in debt that stood at a staggering US$5.3 Billion (S$7.3), leaving scores of Hanjin vessels around the world stranded at sea.

“At this moment, our paramount priority is our employment. It came as a surprise to all of us when we heard the news that the company had filed for bankruptcy. Being at sea, even if we are anchored and not sailing, is not that big of an issue because we are seamen. Seamen live and thrive at sea. But what would happen to our jobs if the company loses its vessels? What would happen to our livelihoods? That is the primary concern for myself and my crew,” said Captain Mun.

Speaking to Members

On board, FKSU and SMOU spoke to the crew of Hanjin Rome. Eleven of them were Korean officers and cadet officers and 13 of them were ratings from Indonesia.

Life on board the vessel appeared monotonous as work had come to a grinding halt since the arrest by the Sheriff of the Supreme Court. To make matters worse, no crew member can disembark without special permission. And it usually only comes in the case of an emergency.

But supplies such as food and water were not a concern for the ship’s crew. They had enough food to last them more than a month, and a fresh water generator that produces 70 tonnes daily.

In case they should run out of supplies, the SMOU representative said, “As long as they are arrested here, they are quite safe in terms of having enough provisions. They’d simply need to inform the Sheriff’s office and help will be rendered.”

International Tripartism

Acting as the contact point between the crew and FKSU back in Korea, SMOU continues to monitor the events closely, providing assistance and advice, as the top priority is to allow both vessel and crew to sail home and return to their families (Photo Source: NTUC This Week)

The crew members of Hanjin Rome are all FKSU members. It was FKSU who contacted SMOU to assist in getting access to their members on board. They call themselves sister unions as both of them are affiliated to the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

I spoke to Ms Kim Hye-Kyung, the rep for FKSU and ITF coordinator. She said: “We had a meeting in Singapore and since we are here, we asked SMOU for help to get us to the ship. For us to understand the conditions of our members on board. It’s our obligation to do this. We thank SMOU for their help.”

But no matter how much they wanted to stay, the FKSU reps had to go back to Korea. And since then, the ship’s contact point for assistance is SMOU.

“When they [FKSU members] are in trouble and need our help, we must do our utmost. And When FKSU contacted us to assist in meeting their members, of course we agreed. Coming from Korea, they might not be familiar with our legal system … It is our duty to help FKSU,” said SMOU.

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