One of Fiji's largest shipping companies has been accused of falsifying safety documents amid police investigations into human trafficking and rights violations.
The Fijian authorities are being urged to investigate the latest allegations of falsified documentation and passenger and maritime worker safety at Goundar Shipping Limited.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) allege their investigations had revealed that "Goundar Shipping's ferries have likely not received critical maintenance required nor have they been staffed with crew of required skill and experience, according to Fijian regulations and international rules".
ITF inspector Sarah Maguire told RNZ Pacific passengers and workers may be in life-threatening danger aboard the company's vessels.
Earlier this month, police launched investigations into claims of human trafficking and worker rights violations against Goundar Shipping.
About 20 Filipino seafarers claimed they were subjected to 'abusive treatment including non-payment of wages owed' to them by the company.
This week, the ITF said its investigations had found that Goundar Shipping may have registered the MV Lomaiviti Princess III at 14 metres shorter and with a 2.431 lower gross tonnage.
Maguire said the ITF also found the registration for the vessel differed than its previous record in Canada under the name 'MV Queen of Chilliwack' when Goundar Shipping bought the ferry.
"The paperwork discrepancy means the ferry has likely not received critical maintenance required for a vessel of its size," she said.
"The vessel has also not been staffed with a crew of required skill and experience according to Fijian regulations and international rules."
Maguire said on 24 March, the union raised its concerns with Fiji's Maritime Safety Authority (MSAF).
She said should this information be accurate, "and we suspect it is, then this raises red flags for the ITF".
"We believe this vessel and others in Goundar's fleet are not operating safely, have not received dry dock and are being operated by crew who are under-qualified."
Large vessels require regular 'dry dock' periods out of the water in order to perform critical maintenance, Maguire said.
She said Fiji's regulations required that vessels of the Queen of Chilliwack's size needed a larger, more qualified crew than on the smaller vessel Goundar registered with the local regulator in 2015.
Maguire said what the tip-off to the ITF revealed was that concerns may not be limited to widespread exploitation of seafarers, but may also include potentially falsifying official safety documentation and endangering the lives of thousands of passengers who use its services every week.
"Did the ship shrink? How does a ship lose 14 metres on the trip from Canada to Fiji?
"Are they downplaying the size of this new vessel in order to avoid properly maintaining and manning it?
"The Fijian authorities must treat these fresh allegations more seriously than they treated the complaints made by the Filipino seafarers back in September," Maguire said.
Earlier, some of the Filipino crew who claimed they were abandoned by Goundar when they complained about their situation, told the authorities their wages were docked to pay for Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE).
The group also claimed that many of the vessels in Goundar's fleet did not have functioning fire and protective equipment onboard - severely endangering crew and passengers.
Just this week, Fiji's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission said it was investigating the allegations against the company.
Commissioner Ashwin Raj said the crew had raised their concerns over the safety concerns with him.
Raj said the seafarers had claimed that at least one of the ship's radar devices and depth-measuring echo sounders were not operational, risking beaching or stranding of the vessel.
The group also claimed that Goundar's ferries were sometimes overloaded.
Maguire said if the information provided to the ITF was correct then the lives of passengers and workers aboard these ferries were in serious danger.
She called on the MSAF to immediately "suspend Goundar Shipping's licence to operate until a proper safety assessment can be carried out."
"It is very serious. We can't allow Fijian people to be going onboard these ferries when they're unsafe. They can run aground, they can capsize and they have a high risk of doing so."
Maguire said that if the company was proven to have falsified these safety documents, then Goundar's licence should be permanently revoked and the company prohibited from owning any commercial maritime vessels.
Goundar Shipping Limited said it would comment once investigations by the relevant authorities were completed into allegations of human rights breaches of its Filipino workers.