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Friday, April 19, 2024

Recent Maritime Safety Violations Linked to Company of Container Ship Involved in Baltimore Bridge Crash

Following the collision of a container vessel with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, attention has turned to the ship’s company, which has been implicated in labor violations in recent years. According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, ships belonging to Grace Ocean Private Ltd., based in Singapore, have faced citations for labor infractions, including underpaying crew members and exceeding their contractual periods onboard.

In 2021, the authority detained the Western Callao, a vessel formerly owned by Grace Ocean, after discovering that 13 crew members had been unpaid and held onboard for more than 12 months, well beyond their contracted nine-month terms. Similarly, in 2020, an inspection of the same ship revealed that eight sailors had exceeded an 11-month stay onboard.

Another ship owned by Grace Ocean, the Furness Southern Cross, was found to have ten seafarers onboard for over 14 months. These violations were deemed “serious and shameful” breaches of the international Maritime Labor Convention by Michael Drake, the executive director of operations for the authority.

“This type of behavior is unethical and in complete contravention of the Maritime Labor Convention,” stated Mr. Drake. “The international conventions that protect seafarers’ rights are very clear.”

The crew of the Dali, the Grace-owned container ship involved in the Key Bridge crash, may face scrutiny regarding factors such as fatigue, among other issues, as the National Transportation Safety Board conducts its investigation into the incident’s causes.

Grace Ocean, which owns 55 ships according to Equasis, often charters its vessels to global companies like Maersk, with the owners and ship managers responsible for crew management and ship maintenance. However, identifying the ultimate owners and holding them accountable for violations is challenging due to the opaque nature of global ship-owning structures.

According to Singapore company records, Grace Ocean is owned by Grace Ocean Investment Limited, based in the British Virgin Islands. However, Lloyds List reported that the company, registered in Hong Kong, dissolved in 2015. The Singapore company has four directors, all listing Singapore addresses, with two being Filipino citizens, one Singaporean, and one Japanese.

Alexandra Wrage, president and founder of Trace, an organization focusing on anti-bribery, compliance, and governance, highlighted the opacity and lack of accountability prevalent in ship ownership structures. Wrage described the shipping industry as akin to the “Wild West” in terms of compliance and accountability, suggesting that issues such as labor practices and safety standards are often neglected in such environments.

The Dali, with 22 crew members from India onboard, was found to have a deficiency related to propulsion and auxiliary machinery during an inspection in Chile last year. The deficiency, concerning gauges and thermometers, was noted during an inspection at the port of San Antonio on June 27.

Equasis records indicate that the Dali has undergone 27 inspections since 2015, with the only other deficiency reported in 2016 at the port of Antwerp in Belgium, where a damaged hull impairing seaworthiness was identified after the vessel struck a berth. A spokesman representing Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine, the management company for the Dali, did not immediately respond to inquiries regarding the labor violations or the deficiency reported last year.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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