Fishing vessel detained in Vigo deemed “death trap” by ITF

International Transport Workers’ Federation Coordinator for Spain Luz Baz

The Santa Isabel, a fishing vessel allegedly owned by Aveiro, Portugal-based Antonio Conde and Companhía, has been detained in the port of Vigo, Spain.

The vessel, which has been accused of illegal fishing by a number of environmental groups, arrived in Vigo from Montevideo, Uruguay, in early May 2023. It was detained by port authorities after an inspection revealed more than 50 severe deficiencies in its maintenance, as well as another 25 deficiencies related to hygiene, health, sanitation, and living conditions on board, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), a union representing fishermen and marine transport workers.

“The vessel is fundamentally unsafe,” ITF Coordinator for Spain Luz Baz said in a press release. “Navigational equipment is broken, there are electrical fire risks in the living areas, the fire-fighting system is not working. On top of that, there are no medical certificates on board, and no certificates to show the crew have received proper training. They should all have International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel [STCW-F] certificates. The owners appear to have been putting fishers’ lives at risk to avoid spending any money to meet basic standards of safety or maintenance.”

Upon arrival in Vigo, several of the ship’s crew asked for assistance through FishSupport, a network of inspectors and union contacts. The crew is from Senegal, Peru, Indonesia, and Spain, and those from outside of Europe wish to collect their wages and have the company that operates the vessel adhere to its requirement to pay for airfare so they can return home, ITF said.

“The fishers had not been paid and feared they would be sent home without pay when the ship arrived in Spain to unload its catch. They requested anonymity because they were scared of reprisals by the ship’s owners,” ITF said.

The 50-year-old vessel is registered to the AC Fishing Company, but its operator is the Portuguese firm Atlantikaromas Unipessoal , and ITF said it believes the beneficial owner is Antonio Conde & Companhía. However, it said the use of shell companies and registration in countries with poor recordkeeping – AC Fishing Company is based in the Seychelles and the Santa Isabel is flagged to Belize – make it difficult to track ownership and easy for the owner “to dodge their responsibilities for the wellbeing of the seafarers they employ.”

“The ITF fervently believes that until ship owners are made to be transparent about their dealings, the wellbeing and safety of seafarers will continue to suffer,” Baz said.

Inspectors representing Belize deemed the vessel to be in fair condition, but Baz strongly disagreed with that declaration.

“This is so at odds with our own findings, one has to question Belize’s motivations,” Baz said. “Why is a ship operating out of Spain, whose owners appear to have no connection to Belize, even registered there? It is because the owners know they will be able to behave however they please because Belize is a flag of convenience and will assert little or no regulatory control.”

The crew remain stuck onboard the vessel, concerned that if they leave, they will not be paid, according to ITF.

“We should not be letting dangerous ships work the ocean with impunity, without control or sanction,” Baz said. “These fishers should not be expected to spend another minute risking their lives in these atrocious conditions. We believe the owners, or their local agent in Vigo, should pay for a hotel for the crew so they have proper rest in decent, hygienic conditions. They should not be expected to go back on board the vessel until it has been properly repaired – not even to sail to a repair dock.”

Photo courtesy of ITF


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