ITF Discovers $2M Wage Theft on Cruise Ship

Sep 05, 2023

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has exposed a case of wage theft amounting to a staggering $2 million Australian Dollars (approximately 1.27 million US Dollars) aboard the luxury cruise ship MS Caledonian Sky, reports Mirage.News. The ITF's investigation, conducted at the port of Broome, Western Australia, has uncovered a troubling pattern of underpayment, highlighting the need for legal reforms to protect crew members from such exploitation. This alarming discovery has ignited outrage within the maritime community and raised questions about the ethics of Australian Pacific Tours (APT), the country's largest locally owned tour company, the crewing management company Sea Chefs, and Delta Corp. 

The ITF's Findings

ITF's Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray, did not mince words when he criticized APT and its associates for deliberately evading their obligations to pay fair wages to the ship's crew. The investigation exposed that 76 crew members on board the MS Caledonian Sky had been underpaid over a six-month period. Bray emphasized, "There is no excuse for an Australian company operating an Australian service on the Australian coastline to be paying anything but Australian wages to its crew in line with the laws in this country."

Ian Bray ITF Coordinator - International Transport Workers'​ Federation

The Luxury Cruise and its Operators

The MS Caledonian Sky is a luxury cruise ship that operated voyages for Melbourne-based Australian company APT until August 2023. However, the vessel is registered in the Bahamas under a Flag of Convenience arrangement, allowing it to circumvent Australian taxes and standards. While the ship operates with a Temporary License issued under the Coastal Trading Act, this license mandates that the crew be paid Award wages during authorized voyages.

Government Authorities' Response

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has collaborated with the Fair Work Ombudsman to address workplace matters on ships like the Caledonian Sky. If wage theft allegations are substantiated, the Fair Work Ombudsman can issue enforcement orders. It is expected that AMSA and other relevant authorities will pursue this case rigorously to ensure justice for the affected crew members.

Sea Chefs' Dismissal and APT's Responsibility

The crewing management company, Sea Chefs, responsible for employing the seafarers on the MS Caledonian Sky, is reportedly being terminated by the ship's owner. This move, seemingly aimed at distancing APT from the wage debt, raises concerns about the crew's ability to recover their unpaid wages.

In Bray's words:

"Australian Pacific Touring makes tens of millions of dollars off the back of these hard-working seafarers, selling cruise packages that run to tens of thousands of dollars per person, but they are standing back and wiping their hands of their crew, who've been robbed collectively of almost $2 million."

ITF's Call for Legislative Reform

The ITF has formally reported the incident to AMSA and the Fair Work Ombudsman and is collaborating with these agencies to ensure that the crew of the Caledonian Sky receives justice. The federation has also reiterated its longstanding demand for legislative reforms that empower government agencies to enforce and, if necessary, prosecute wage theft cases. Part of these reforms includes granting customs officers the authority to prevent vessels from leaving Australia until unpaid wages have been settled.

The revelation of $2 million in wage theft on the MS Caledonian Sky has exposed a grave injustice within the Australian cruise industry. The ITF's investigation sheds light on the need for tighter regulations and greater accountability to protect vulnerable workers at sea. As the maritime community awaits further developments in this case, it is clear that the pursuit of justice for the affected crew members remains paramount. The scandal has also ignited discussions about the responsibility of companies like APT in ensuring fair treatment of their employees and the urgency of legislative reforms to prevent such egregious wage theft incidents in the future.

The CruisePassenger website recently reported that the MS Caledonian Sky, has been sold by APT's parent company, Australian Pacific Holdings. The luxury cruise ship is set to embark on a new chapter under the ownership of Captain Cook Cruises Fiji, with its maiden voyage scheduled to commence on November 11, 2023, departing from Nadi.