Stranded ships' crew not abandoned: deputy transport minister

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Hoa Sen, a ship belonging to Vinalines, is docked in China. Crew members say they have been left with no food or money

Vietnam's deputy transport minister Nguyen Hong Truong has denied media reports that the ministry was leaving the crew of several Vietnamese ships stranded in overseas ports for months high and dry.

His denial follows several local media reports that have highlighted the plight of crew members of ships belonging to troubled state-owned shipping firm Vinalines stranded abroad with unpaid salaries and inadequate funds to meet basic needs of food and water.

"There's no such thing as abandoning," Truong was quoted as saying by a Monday VnExpress report.

Truong said the ministry and the crew members' employers are responsible for making sure they are provided with basic needs.

Local media have been running reports, citing emails received from people aboard ships belonging to Vinashinlines, a subsidiary of the state shipping giant Vinalines, stuck abroad as the company owes money to its foreign partners.

The reports have said the crew are in dire straits having run out of food, water, power and medicines. Many have not been paid their wages for years.

Truong said at a press briefing that the ministry and the company have not left anyone in such conditions.

"This is between humans and humans, so it is impossible that we abandon the sailors," he said, adding that the ministry had even organized visits by family members of the sailors who'd been away from home for a long time.

News reports show that at least seven Vinalines ships with nearly 100 people on board are stuck at different foreign ports including China and Pakistan.

An April 1 VnExpress report said the news website had received another email from crew members on the Hoa Sen ship in Zhejiang, China asking for help.

The email said the company owes the crew nearly VND40 million in food payments for February, and they have not been paid anything for March and April.

"Two meals a day are already a luxury for us. Sometimes we did not even have a meal as we have run out of money.

"We are not allowed to step on shore. We are in prison here on this boat, separate from the world," the email said.

Vinashinlines was transferred to Vinalines from shipbuilder Vinashin, which nearly went bankrupt after piling up debts of US$4.5 billion in 2010.

Financial officials from the transport ministry said at a recent meeting that Vinashin has lost all its equity funds to continue operations.

But Vinalines' financial situation has not been any better. A government report in June last year said the company is saddled with debts totaling more than VND43 trillion (more than $2 billion). The company said in January that it suffered losses of VND2.44 trillion last year.

A March 20 BBC report cited an unnamed Vinalines official as saying the group was considering a plan to make some money by selling the ships, and report bankruptcy sometime this year.

Several former Vinashin executives are in jail for serious mismanagement and some Vinalines officials have been placed under arrest.

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