British Columbia

'Like house arrest on a ship': legal limbo strands Korean crew in Canadian waters

The crew of the Hanjin Scarlet shipping container is headed for Vancouver after spending weeks stranded off the coast of Prince Rupert. The Korean and Filipino crew hasn't had fresh food or touched land in weeks, and their future is still unclear.

Since its owners went bankrupt, the crew of the Hanjin Scarlet has been left adrift

The crew of the Hanjin Scarlett container ship has spent weeks stranded in Canadian waters after a Korean shipping giant went bankrupt. (Peter Lahay)

A Korean container ship has departed for Vancouver after spending weeks stranded off the coast of Prince Rupert, but the future of the 24-person crew remains uncertain.

The Hanjin Scarlet arrived in the port of Prince Rupert on August 30. The next day, South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd. filed for bankruptcy, causing global confusion.

With no one to pay docking and cargo fees, both the Scarlet and the Hanjin Vienna, which was in Vancouver at the time, were placed under arrest. The Vienna was moved to Victoria while the Scarlet remained stranded in Prince Rupert.

Hanjin ships around the world were stranded after the Korean company's bankruptcy. Here, the Hanjin Buenos Aires leaves the Port of Miami. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)

Peter Lahay of the International Transport Workers Federation visited the Scarlet on October 23 and was disturbed by what he saw.

"There's a lot of stress on board amongst the crew, anxiety," he told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. "They wouldn't admit it, but I suspect there's a bit of back-fighting going on." 

Prince Rupert: supplies and morale running low

Lahay's organization represents the rights of seafarers in foreign ports.

He says the 24-person crew, which consists of Korean and Filipino members, was out of fresh food and running low on other supplies, including insulin for one person.

More troubling was a lack of information about when they might be able to leave.

"When [the captain] sends an email to their operational headquarters in Korea, he doesn't get any response."

Lahay says he was told the crew had not been allowed to step on dry land for weeks.

"Seafarers are amongst the most marginalized and isolated workers in the world and in need of special protection, and it's shameful the way the crew have been treated so far since they've been in Canadian waters," he said.

"It's like house arrest on a ship."

Victoria: A well cared for crew

The Hanjin Vienna has been sitting in the Strait of Juan de Fuca for seven weeks. (CHEK News)

Lahay's reports from the Scarlet stand in contrast to information about the Hanjin Vienna, which was leased to a Germany company when it went under arrest.

Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the B.C. Chamber of Shipping, said he's been told the German company has been keeping its crew well-supplied and in good care.

He said the ship departed for Vancouver the morning of October 25, and he's been told there will be a crew change once it arrives.

He was unable to provide any information about the Scarlet.

'They just want to go home'

The 255-metre long container ship, Scarlet, wass anchored in the port of Prince Rupert from August 30 until October 25. (George Baker/CBC)

Michael Gurney of the Prince Rupert Port Authority said the situation with the Scarlet was "unprecedented" for his organization and that the Port has been doing its best to keep all lines of communication open.

He said the Scarlet had also departed for Vancouver on the morning of October 25, and it is his understanding the ship will be able to offload its cargo due for destinations across North America.

For Lahay, the bigger concern is what happens to the crew.

"Do the crew just still sit and languish on board and wait and wait and wait and wait to find out what their fate holds for them?" he asked. "Are they under house arrest on a ship?"

He said he would be working to allow the crew to be allowed to leave the ship and, if possible, return to their families.

"They just want to go home. That's all they want to do now, is they want to go home and get on with their lives."

With files from George Baker and Karin Larsen.


To hear Peter Lahay describe the conditions on board the Scarlet, click on the audio labeled: 'Food is dwindling, medical supplies running out on board the Hanjin Scarlett'

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.