The saga of the MV Jana: Two years later, solidarity holds a crew together

For the ITF's Atlantic inspector Karl Risser, solidarity is everything.

For the ITF’s Atlantic inspector Karl Risser (left), solidarity is everything.

For Canadians experiencing what feels like a bit of cold winter bite, we thought we’d share this short note from our Atlantic inspector Karl Risser, who has been providing ongoing support and solidarity for crew of a small bulk carrier that’s been stranded in the remote port of Argentia, Newfoundland, for two-and-a-half years.

Karl is reporting in on his recent success in helping update backwages owing to crew who remain aboard the Antigua-flagged vessel, still stuck alongside as the owners continue to ponder its future.

The Jana pulled into Argentia in August of 2014, having arrived from Poland with a cargo of steel rails delivered to Halifax. At the time, it needed significant engine repairs.

Karl is doing the kind of thing ITF inspectors climb gangways daily around the world to accomplish: supporting a crew’s right to a safe workplace, wages paid on time and a contract that is honoured. But not even daily exposure to this kind of case makes it less troubling to see workers faced with uncertainty about food, wages and a safe trip home. Or to see the men who have agreed to fly around the world to help maintain a company’s asset treated with such stunning disrespect.

Karl writes:

In my first year as a ITF inspector, I have built some special relationships with some of fantastic crew I meet on board vessels. The crew aboard the MV Jana, stuck in the port of Argentia in Newfoundland right now, are a great example of how workers help each other in tough circumstances.

Their vessel has been sitting for sometime now and they’re unclear what the owners have planned for future work. The present crew aboard to keep the ship safe and in order — there are nine of them — are from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

On multiple occasions there have been major delays with payroll. The latest example was in December; workers didn’t receive that month’s pay until Jan. 27. They were owed $52,720. You can imagine the uncertainty it creates on a vessel with an already uncertain future when wages for work done don’t get handed over on time. For these men, it means they’re on the job, working unpaid, knowing that family can’t pay bills back home. They’re foreign seafarers in a foreign land wondering if they’re going to be stuck in the cold with no pay, no job and no way home.

In January, they were fortunate. Payment was received and the owner remains committed to the vessel and is working to correct the issues with payroll with management company and manning agency. I am continuing to monitor the situation.

I should say that they can also thank John Boland of Unifor’s Fish, Food and Allied Workers branch in Newfoundland for his assistance. John has supported this crew and my work many times. The solidarity means a lot to our work, and to the crew.

The MV Jana, now idled, isn’t covered by an ITF agreement, but it is my hope that the vessel secures work and that we are able to get agreement on board in the future.

As always, like all ITF inspectors, I’m working to support all seafarers — union and nonunion. But I will say it’s good to see these workers feeling the power and support of a union. Some have already joined the ITF-affiliated national seafarers unions in their respective countries.

In solidarity,

Karl

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3 responses to “The saga of the MV Jana: Two years later, solidarity holds a crew together

  1. Well, I’m smiling man with Karl on the foto Above. So I’d like to say, do not post an foto without allowance. Moreover, I’ve never been on above mentioned vessel Jana.

    Like

  2. Gerard Bradbury

    Sorry to see that this ship is still around and the crew is still fighting for wages.

    I had this ship in Halifax and won a wage claim for over $67,000 with the help of Susan in Germany, and then it ran into its engine problems and was abandoned by the owner at the time in Marystown, then towed to Argentia.

    I then spent the better part of two months in Newfoundland on and off with this ship. Pete and I tag teamed the new owners I think for well over a hundred thousand in back wages and flights for those that wanted to go home.

    The crew wanted all cash because they were afraid of wiring the money to their banks for fear of never seeing their hard-earned funds.

    John Boland, who I see is still involved, ventured out to that ship at least twice weekly to check on the crew and provide much needed food and support.

    (Ed. note: That’s former ITF Atlantic inspector Gerard Bradbury weighing in with a bit of history and detail from the Jana saga.)

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