MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) – Russian investigators opened a criminal case on Wednesday over alleged use of “slave labor” among the Russian crew of a Tuvalu-flagged vessel held in the Philippines.
The SS Veles bulk carrier, registered at Tuvalu’s capital and port of Funafuti, with a 13-member Russian crew, got into trouble in the Philippines last month when some of its documentation expired, prompting the local authorities to detain the vessel.
The crew appealed for help after being stuck in the port in poor living conditions with no food and water supplies and no means of traveling home to Russia. Earlier reports said the sailors have not been paid for five months.
The deputy governor of Russia’s Primorye Region, where the sailors are from, flew to Manila on Tuesday to help with arrangements for sending them home.
The crew was hired by the offshore-based Damelo Group, owned by two Russian nationals from Vladivostok who have been already detained, investigators said in a statement. The suspects face up to ten years if convicted.
It is not the first time Damelo has been investigated by the Russian authorities, the Investigative Committee said. A similar case was opened in 2011 over use of “slave labor” among the crew of Damelo Group’s SS Ross, who were also forced to work in harsh conditions while operating in the Persian Gulf.
The Ross’ crew reported to officials in 2011 that one of their colleagues, a 63-year-old lathe operator, died after being injured, not being given the necessary medical treatment and prevented from leaving the ship. Another crew member was reportedly forced to work under threat of physical violence.
The crew of the Ross later succeeded in getting home to Russia by themselves, and contacted the authorities about the situation on board.
Large numbers of Russian-owned ships are registered under flags of convenience, in states with lax safety regulations, in order to cut costs, Russian sea law expert Vasily Gutsulyak told Voice of Russia last year.