Nervous wait for Filipino crew members on cargo ships

THOUSANDS of Filipino workers are in limbo, waiting  and friends while aboard enormous cargo ships dotting Australia's coast line.

Up to 10,000 have been killed and 9 million people affected after Typhoon Haiyan - the most powerful ever recorded - swept through eastern areas of Letye and Samar on Friday, before smashing a further six central Philippine islands.

Filipino crews are popular for the owners of bulk carriers carrying coal, sugar and other commodities from Australia to ports in Asia and Europe.

But whether they can secure permission to head home depends on their captains and officers.

The International Transport Workers Federation or ITF works to protect the rights of international shipping crews - Matt Purcell is the group's Australian assistant coordinator.

Mr Purcell had not yet had any direct requests from crew members to be helped home to the Philippines because of the disaster, although some could be under threat from their superiors on board.

"It would be the owners - they'll try anything to stop the crew member from leaving the ship, anything that suits their own economic requirements," he said.

"It might be the captain of the ship. They call the shots. They direct the officers."

The reputation of the ITF, however, means most crew members should be confident enough to make a request.

Mr Purcell said it would be straight forward if the ship has ITF agreement, but requests from other ships would be "handled carefully".

Bernie Thorsen from Stella Maris's Mackay offers support to these crews when they visit the nearby coal ports of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay.

Eight ships are due to be loaded with coal at Hay Point today - each of these would likely have about 15 Filipino workers on board, she said.

Ms Thorsen said she too was yet to receive a request for help, but said many could still be waiting on news from their families.

"A lot of people don't know if their families are OK or not OK because communications from those (Filipino) islands is a little difficult," she said.