A fishing vessel detained in the port of Vigo, Spain, has been deemed a “death trap” by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The Santa Isabel, allegedly owned by Antonio Conde and Companhía based in Aveiro, Portugal, arrived in Vigo from Montevideo, Uruguay, in early May 2023 and was detained by port authorities due to numerous deficiencies discovered during an inspection.
The ITF, a union representing fishermen and marine transport workers, revealed that the inspection revealed over 50 severe maintenance deficiencies and an additional 25 issues related to hygiene, health, sanitation, and living conditions onboard. Luz Baz, the ITF Coordinator for Spain, stated in a press release, “The vessel is fundamentally unsafe,” highlighting concerns such as broken navigational equipment, electrical fire hazards in living areas, and an ineffective fire-fighting system. Furthermore, the crew lacked medical certificates and evidence of proper training, which should include the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) certificates. Baz accused the owners of jeopardizing the lives of fishermen by neglecting basic safety standards and maintenance to cut costs.
Upon arrival in Vigo, several crew members sought assistance from FishSupport, a network of inspectors and union contacts. The crew, consisting of individuals from Senegal, Peru, Indonesia, and Spain, demanded payment of wages and compliance from the vessel’s operating company regarding airfare for their return home, as mandated. The ITF noted that the crew members, particularly those from outside of Europe, expressed fear of reprisals from the ship’s owners and therefore requested anonymity.
Although the vessel is registered to the AC Fishing Company, it is operated by the Portuguese firm Atlantikaromas Unipessoal, and the ITF believes that Antonio Conde & Companhía is the beneficial owner. However, the use of shell companies and registration in countries with lax recordkeeping, such as the Seychelles for AC Fishing Company and Belize as the vessel’s flag state, complicates the process of tracking ownership. This setup allows the owner to evade responsibility for the well-being of their employed seafarers.
Luz Baz emphasized the need for transparency in ship ownership, stating, “The ITF fervently believes that until ship owners are made to be transparent about their dealings, the well-being and safety of seafarers will continue to suffer.”
While Belizean inspectors categorized the vessel as being in fair condition, Baz strongly disagreed with their assessment, questioning Belize’s motives and highlighting the lack of regulatory control due to Belize’s flag of convenience status.
Currently, the crew remains confined on board the vessel, fearing non-payment if they disembark, according to the ITF. Baz demanded that the owners or their local agent in Vigo provide proper accommodation in a hotel for the crew, ensuring rest under decent and hygienic conditions. She insisted that the crew should not be expected to reboard the vessel until it undergoes thorough repairs, even if it means sailing to a repair dock.
The ITF emphasizes the urgency of addressing the issue, advocating for greater control and accountability to prevent dangerous ships from operating without consequences. The lives of these fishermen should not be further endangered, and immediate action should be taken to rectify the appalling conditions onboard the vessel.