Troubled Vinalines leaves crew members high and dry in China

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Crew members aboard a boat owned by Vietnam's troubled state-run shipping firm Vinalines have been stuck in China for months and are complaining about poor living conditions and a lack of basic necessities.

The Hoa Sen boat has been anchored at a shipyard in Zhejiang Province without fuel, food or fresh water for the past two months.

Its crew members said in an email to news website VnExpress they want the government to allow them to go home.

The boat has no lights at night and it's located in a "dangerous" location where many boats pass, VnExpress reported Monday, citing the email.

Crew members have not received money for food from the boat's owner - Vinashinlines, a subsidiary of the Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines) - and they are all out of their own money.

"Sometimes we have to pick vegetables from the mountain and catch fish and crabs," the email said.

They only have around 30 liters of fresh water, and they have stopped bathing.

They had worked on the boat for 13 months by the end of October but have only gotten paid for two months, said the crew members, all of whom have families to feed back home.

The Hoa Sen (Lotus) Ship was transferred to Vinalines from shipbuilder Vinashin, which nearly went bankrupt after piling up debts of $4.5 billion in 2010.

It was one of the five bad investments that put eight Vinashin officials in jail. The former board chairman had his 20-year sentence upheld at an appeal in August.

The used, Italian-made high-speed seagoing vessel was bought for $87.8 million in 2007. But it caused operational losses of $22.5 million and was docked in 2009 after 39 north-south trips.

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Vinalines' financial situation has not gotten better, with debts totaling more than VND43 trillion (more than US$2 billion), according to a government report in June.

In early 2011, it rented the boat to a Chinese-Korean joint-investment company, supposedly for six months.

But soon after the contract started, the boat was seized in South Korea to solve a financial dispute involving Vinalines, which then had to pay nearly $4.3 million to release the boat and bring it back to China.

The company that rented the boat has all but abandoned it in China ever since.

Earlier, 19 crew members from Vinalines' Diamond Way filed similar complaints to the company and Vietnamese authorities from UAE.

A leader from Vinashinlines told VnExpress the company is aware of the crew members' problems, but business difficulties have prevented it from doing anything about the problem yet.

The source said money for food will arrive, and that it's only a couple days late.

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