The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has warned of possible action by thousands of desperate crew stuck onboard five cruise vessels detained in the UK for Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) breaches.
UK port state control boarded and detained Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV)-owned, Portuguese-flagged Astoria on 19 June, suspecting breaches under the MLC.
The Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) also boarded and detained four other CMV ships the Bahamas-flagged Astor, Colombus and Vasco de Gama at Tilbury and Marco Polo at Bristol.
MCA inspectors found expired and invalid Seafarers Employment Agreements (SEAs), late payment of wages and crew who had been onboard for over 12 months.
A total of 1,449 seafarers are onboard the five vessels including nationals from Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Mauritius.
'Tensions are rising. If there is no action or undertaking from the company to at least pay some of the owed wages, then this situation could escalate very quickly and spread to other vessels,' ITF inspectorate coordination supervisor Finlay Mcintosh said.
'Then we are looking at thousands of seafarers taking action in the port of Tilbury, London, UK and the crew members rightly will get a lot of support from other workers, community and media.'
Unions and charities have stepped up efforts to help 47 cruise crew who went on a hunger strike after being stuck on board Astoria without pay.
The mainly Indian crew onboard Astoria demanded wages owed to them and repatriation home in mid-June, after weeks of pleas to their employer proved fruitless.
The crew on Astoria had become increasingly concerned for their welfare after the cook died of a heart attack, the ITF reported. Crew medication has been running low and one crew member attempted to take his life.
They made a direct plea to both the Indian and British prime ministers via Twitter: 'Hear our voices... We need help before we have more deaths onboard. Save lives. Help us get home safe to our families,' they wrote.
Astoria crew are now refusing to disembark the vessel in lieu of unpaid wages.
'We are desperately in need of financial support… We are very worried about our families who are depending mostly on us (for) our loan dues, childrens' education and medical expenses,' a crew member told ITF.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and ISWAN have been working to get the crew released.
The ITF has been speaking with the Astoria crew for some weeks now, who are mostly represented by Italian ITF affiliate FIT-CISL. Together, the ITF and FIT-CISL has been working behind the scenes with the company and the embassies of the seafarers' home countries to get them home.