Bankrupt casino ship forces return of Pinoy crew

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2010 06:48 PM | Updated as of Feb 28 2010 02:48 AM

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 44 Filipino seafarers returned home on Thursday afternoon from Florida after the casino ship that employed them failed to give their salaries on time.

Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said the workers arrived on board a Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 from Miami.

“The Philippine government responded to the workers’ request to help in negotiations because they will be left on their own once they get to Haiti,” Dimzon said.

OWWA said the owner of casino ship MV Palm Beach Princess fell behind payment of salaries and refused to provide plane tickets for its foreign crew members.

The company reportedly claimed bankruptcy in September 2009, and threatened to divert the crew to Haiti where the ship would be furloughed.

“They faced uncertainty in Haiti because the shipowner was already delinquent with payment of salaries and declined to provide plane tickets home,” Dimzon said.

OWWA overseas staff successfully negotiated the extension of their US transit visas to avoid their detention, and to allow them to fly home through the Miami-Los-Angeles-Honolulu route.

Administrator Dimzon said also that negotiations in Miami with the shipowner resulted in a commitment that the Princess would pay all unpaid salaries and pay back OWWA for advancing the fares.

The Princess is docked temporarily in Miami. Many of its crew went on strike over deteriorating working conditions and salary issues in December 2009. The shipowners denied reports of pay issues.

OWWA has moved for the suspension by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) of the local manning agency that recruited the crew for reneging on its responsibility and refusing to repatriate the seafarers.

The 44 formed part of an original 65 Filipinos affected by the ship’s bankruptcy. The shipowner had issued fares and settled back wages for 21, leaving the 44 stranded in Miami.