Twenty-five crew members stuck on a deep-sea fishing vessel in Cape Town Harbour claim they are being prevented from going home to see their families.
One crew member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said some of the men have been at sea on the Desert Diamond, owned by the Oceana Group, for six months and longer.
He said between 110 and 115 crew members were initially on the vessel, but some have returned home while others had to stay behind.
“We usually go out for about a month or two at a time. We offload our catch, and then we go home,” said the man.
The crew claim that while they have been stuck, their Russian colleagues were evacuated and flown home.
“About a third of the crew was Russian, and they were all flown home. Oceana also brought in a relief Russian crew, and those guys are now all on the boat, in quarantine. Some of our guys have not been home in 10 months. They are treating us like we are still in level five,” said the father of two.
But Zodwa Velleman, spokesperson for Oceana Group, said the company’s front-line employees, including those on vessels, are required to observe stringent protocols.
“All crew members are only allowed to join the ship after testing and spending time in quarantine. At no point did (we) act outside the ambit of the law. The crew has the option to leave at any time, but must bear in mind that once they leave, they will only be allowed to return to the vessel once they test negative for Covid-19 and observe the mandatory quarantine period,” she said.
The man claimed he and his colleagues were moved to a Cape Town Lodge this week where they were tested for Covid-19 and are scheduled to return to the Desert Diamond today.
The crew regularly work in international waters off the coast of PE, Francis Bay and Cape Agulhas. Some of the men who are stuck said they left their families a day before the lockdown was announced in March and have not been home since.
“I was able to return home for six weeks because my mother was very ill, but the other guys have not been home. When we were at sea, none of the guys was ever sick or tested positive. I think they are abusing the rules,” the man said.
While the crew say they are healthy, are being fed and treated well, all they want is to return home. Velleman denied that the crew were being held against their will.
“None of the crew has been away from their families for the alleged period of six months. The rotation ensures that all crew members receive their guaranteed time off to spend with loved ones, which is up to a period of six weeks. As a responsible employer, we aim to protect our crew as far as possible.
“We will continue to prioritise the safety of all of our people. This is standard practice – the Russian crew, due for rotation are scheduled to leave on Sunday, and a new crew was brought in and placed in quarantine, all in terms of the various laws applicable and in-line with our protocols,” said Velleman.
The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) asked the office of the National Fishing Sector Coordinator for clarity on the future of 1500 sea-going workers in similar positions.
“While the union and crew members are committed to upholding the national Covid-19 protocols, it is concerned that its members are being prevented from returning home,” he said.
The union’s letter to the national Fishing Sector Coordinator was dated September 29. To date, FAWU has not received a reply.
Maritime Safety Authority of South Africa (Samsa) spokesperson, Tebogo Ramatjie, said news of the crew only recently came to light.
“Samsa is aware of the situation regarding the Desert Diamond. Samsa is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the situation and will issue official communication in due course. In the meantime Samsa wishes to refer all seafarers to the disaster management regulations regarding crew change and shore leave,” he said.