Cargo ship briefly detained in Halifax amid complaints from Ukrainian crew

July 23, 2022 Maritime Safety News

The federal government has gotten involved in a dispute onboard a ship anchored in Halifax harbour following complaints from Ukrainian crew members that the company is keeping them from returning home.

The crew has been on board since November, initially for a six-month contract, which was extended. They were then asked to work another extension, which they refused.

“They’ve never been home since [the war]. They want to go home, contact their families, and make sure everybody’s safe,” said Karl Risser, an inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

MSC Manzanillo departed Portugal in late June and arrived in Halifax on July 5, when it was detained by Transport Canada.

Karl Risser stands in front of the Halifax Harbour. George's Island and a detained cargo ship can be seen in the background.

Karl Risser is the ITF inspector for Atlantic Canada. He’s been dealing with complaints from Ukrainian crew members on board this vessel, and others, for several months. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Risser said Transport Canada “did the right thing” in detaining the ship in Halifax for inspection. Its next port of call is New York, which he worries could complicate things for Ukrainian crew members trying to get home.

Canada is a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, which outlines rights for seafarers. Among them is the right to go home at the end of a contract. The U.S. is not a signatory of the convention.

“We’re not sure if the seafarers’ rights will be upheld in the United States, and there could be issues with visas with these guys that aren’t an issue here in Canada,” Risser said.

In an email statement to CBC News, Transport Canada confirmed it briefly detained the MSC Manzanillo.

A cargo ship, MSC Manzanillo, in the Halifax Harbour.

MSC Manzanillo arrived in Halifax harbour on July 5 and was detained by Transport Canada. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

“To verify the crew members’ seafarer employment agreement, Transport Canada inspectors issued a deficiency notice under the Maritime Labour Convention. The vessel had to remain alongside at the Port of Halifax pending verification of all items to the satisfaction of Transport Canada,” the statement said. 

Following verifications by inspectors, the detention was lifted on July 6, the statement said.

No further details were provided.

According to the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, MSC Manzanillo was set to depart Halifax at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Nine Ukrainan crew members on board

There are nine crew members from Ukraine with contracts that have expired.

“These guys are real heroes keeping our supply chain going and we have to respect their rights as seafarers to be repatriated home at the end of their contract,” Risser said.

ITF has been dealing with complaints from Ukrainian crew members on board this vessel, and others, for several months.

“It’s a continuing problem to get these guys home, but it’s important that we live up to our obligation … We’re anxiously awaiting to see the employer’s plan to see these guys repatriated home, and give these seafarers answers,” he said.