An Egyptian-registered ship flying the Panamanian flag is moored off the port of Antwerp, having been abandoned by its captain following a negative visit by shipping inspectors. The Basel Express sailed up the Scheldt last Thursday, and was inspected by officials of the ITF international transport federation, after an alert from the authorities at its last port of call in Italy. They found a number of regulatory breaches. Shortly after, the captain went missing, having apparently abandoned the ship at its mooring.
The crew were left behind, in what ITF inspector Marc Van Noten described as inhuman circumstances. The crew of about 20 men, mainly from Syria, India and Egypt, cannot come to shore without papers or special permission, and have been left on board without fresh food.
“The food is rotten and mouldy,” Van Noten told the VRT. “The crew has no fresh vegetables or fruit. There is only frozen food on board, but the freezers are broken. Today the men will receive food from another ship moored in the port. That ship’s crew have been allowed to disembark, and the food is now being brought to the Basel Express.”
“This ship should never have been allowed to leave Italy,” said Philippe De Backer, federal minister for the North Sea. “All of our inspection services have been on board. The hygiene leaves a lot to be desired, the crew has not been paid and the ship is not up to environmental standards.”
The Romanian owner of the ship faces heavy fines, De Backer said, for breaches of European and international maritime law. And he warned that there are international agreements in place to ensure that such fines are paid. But for now, the crew is the priority, he said.
“First and foremost we have to help the crew,” he told VRT Radio 2. “Our services are discussing that now. The Office for Foreigners is also involved. If the sailors leave the ship they come onto Belgian territory. We understand that they all want to go home as quickly as possible.”