Cagliari - The crew of the Kenza has returned home, but the merchant ship that belongs to the Moroccan company IMTC remains in the port of Cagliari, seized because of unpaid debts.
Five sailors were already repatriated in December of last year, thanks to the intervention of the international union and the Catholic Church’s Apostolate of the Sea. Now it is time for the other ten to be freed from what - after almost ten months on board, sometimes without food, water or fuel - had almost become a prison sentence.
The ten sailors were obliged to remain on board at the request of the Harbour Master’s Office for security reasons. In fact, the ship was required to be crewed so as not to become a navigation hazard within the port.Now the ship’s owner, forced by the long arm of the union, has sent three new crew members, which has allowed those who remained on board to return home. The captain of the ship, who was named its legal guardian by the court, was also replaced by a new captain who of course became the ship’s new guardian.
But the problems are not yet over. “The ship’s owner,” explained Francesco Di Fiore, the ITF inspector in Italy, “did send a new crew, but it seems that the agreement we made with them last year, by which they would pay €110,000 in overdue wages, has come to nothing. The sailors went home, but without the money that they were owed.”
And among other things, in recent months another issue has come up, which is that the crew could suffer reprisals in Morocco because of the strike they organized to protest against the company’s non payment of wages.
Among the five sailors who returned home in December, some were unable to find work on a new ship, while the company presented the captain with the possibility that he would have to pay the damages caused by the strike personally.
On the judicial front, the judge at the court in Cagliari, who had the ship seized, will hold a hearing that will officially open the case on April 8th. It is expected to take about two years to reach the point at which the ship can be sold to recover the funds necessary to pay the debt claimed by the sailors.
But in this case things could become more complicated. In fact, the ITF discovered that the company that owns the Kenza is accused of having held back 4 million euros which were withheld from wages as a pension contribution but not actually deposited in the Moroccan pension fund.
If the accusations are proven and the State of Morocco demands payment, their claim to the ship would be valid and take priority, since the ship flies the Moroccan flag. An Italian judge would no longer be able to sell it to cover the wages in arrears for the crew.
The “Kenza” has been stuck in Cagliari since May 2013. The situation on board the ship deteriorated to the point that food and fuel ran out. At first the union provided them, since the fuel shortage made the ship uncontrollable and therefore dangerous. Then the Harbour Master’s Office intervened and requested that a local company supply the fuel that was needed for the ship to operate at minimum levels of safety.