Abandoned sailors bullied into backing down over pay

Threatening messages were sent to sailors onboard vessels off the UAE coast

Merchant navy sailors on the MV Azraqmoiah have received threatening messages from a Mumbai shipping agent in an attempt to force them to concede half the salary they are owed. Courtesy: Capt. Ayyaapa Swaminathan.
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Intimidation and verbal threats are being levelled at sailors waiting to be rescued, on board vessels off the UAE coast, to force them to back down over a pay dispute.

Some merchant navy sailors on board ships off Ajman, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain have already conceded over a long standing financial row with their employer, accepting half of what they are owed in unpaid wages.

A total of 31 crew have been on board the seven ships, some since October 2016.

But the crew of MV Azraqmoiah are standing firm, remaining on board the tanker until assurances are made they will be paid 100 per cent of their outstanding salaries.

They claim that stance has stoked a fierce reaction from a Mumbai shipping agent, Oath Marine Services, that supplied crew to work on the vessel, as they will lose out financially if full payments are made.

The Directorate General of Shipping India, a government-run authority, confirmed it is investigating unpaid salaries and threats made against crew members on board the Azraqmoiah.

“This office has already taken up the issue of abandonment and non payment of wages by the owner and with the UAE Federal Transport Authority,” said Subhash Barguzer, the DGSI deputy director.

“We are in regular touch with the crew, the FTA and the Indian Mission.

“Captain Ayyaapan has already asked the jurisdictional seamen's employment office in India for a report.”

Lokendra Indolia of Oath Marine Services denied the company had been threatening crew.

The UAE's Federal Transport Authority has said it is working to tackle such cases and ensure crew know their rights.

The men are getting scared by this intimidation and are unsure of our safety when we are repatriated to India

Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan, who is owed about $77,000 (Dh283,000) in total, has reported the agent’s threats to the Directorate General of Shipping India and is determined not to give in to bullying tactics.

“The message was very harsh and strong, with one of my crew receiving a threatening voicemail,” he said.

“We are in a critical situation here, yet we are now getting abusive and threatening demands.

“The men are getting scared by this intimidation and are unsure of our safety when we are repatriated to India.”

Most of the 10 man crew are owed about $10,000 (Dh37,000) each, plus end of service payments and repatriation costs.

Lawyers acting for the sailors said Oath Marine Services could make thousands of dollars in commission, if crew accept less than they are owed.

Several sailors on board other vessels operated by the same UAE flagged firm have already accepted a lesser amount in order to be relieved from the vessels and repatriated.

Some have been at sea for more than two years.

It is understood the firm’s recruitment and placement services license has already been suspended by the Directorate General of Shipping India, following the abandonment of vessels.

A threatening voice message in Hindi was sent to one of the crew, Alok Pal.

A second voicemail was received on Wednesday pressuring the crew to sign an agreement accepting almost half what they are owed.

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“You are getting a percentage, you are getting a salary so don’t listen to those officers,” said the man, allegedly on behalf of Oath Marine Services.

“Don’t be a fool Alok. Listen to me, take the percentage that you are getting and leave from there.

“The Captain Ayyappan who is showing you dreams, he is a ****.

“If I see him in Mumbai, if I don’t turn him into a ***** then my name is not [name redacted]. We will beat him so hard.

“Only four of you are left. Write the letter immediately

“Tomorrow the boat is coming you can sign off. You understand?”

A total of 31 crew on seven vessels were embroiled in a financial dispute with the owner of the ships.

Several tankers have already been arrested and towed to shore, with some crew repatriated.

One vessel is to be towed to India and sold for scrap to settle some of the outstanding debt.

Vikash Mishra, an Indian sailor has been trying to sign off from his vessel, the Tamim Aldar, since August, 2017.

The second engineer has been on board the tanker, now anchored 25 nautical miles from Hamriya Port, since October, 2016.

Four crew members have returned to land this week after accepting 50 per cent of the salaries they are owed. Five sailors remain on board.

Only one generator is working on the ship, with no power available for 20 hours a day.

The vessel’s owner has not provided fuel and supplies for the crew since December, with charities stepping it to provide fresh water and food.

The Indian Embassy has delivered medication for the ship’s captain, who has diabetes and hypertension.

Shehab Mamdouh, a shipping lawyer and senior associate at Fichte and Co in Dubai, has helped secure three arrest warrants for ships so they can be either towed in to port, or crew can be relieved and brought ashore.

“I have told the sailors not to listen to the threats or give them any credibility," said Mr Mamdouh, who recently visited the vessels with the Federal Transport Authority.

“The Indian authorities are aware of what has happened and will not tolerate this.

“They should not concede on what they are owed, we are working to recover 100 per cent of their salaries.”