Majority of unpaid Indian sailors stranded on two UAE tankers head for home



DUBAI // Twenty six Indian sailors have disembarked from two oil tankers after being stranded for more than two months off the coast of Kandla, in western India, in a row over unpaid wages and a legal dispute between ship owners and a UAE chartering company.

A sailor who tried to leap into the sea on Tuesday and who said that he could not provide for his family was among those headed home on Wednesday. However, there was still no clarity on payment of wages going back six months.

Twelve sailors, including four Pakistani crew, remain on board Nautical Global VII and Nautical Global XVI following assurances from the recruitment company in Mumbai that they too could sign off soon.

“The man who wanted to jump was the first to go off board. Conditions at his home are pathetic because he has had no money to send and they (his family) have little food to eat. Now at least he will be home with his family,” said Capt Suchittar Kumar Sharma, from anchorage off Kandla Port.

He is among six men remaining on Nautical Global XVI.

“The men were getting desperate. They have empty pockets and their families are suffering. They were relieved to leave, happy is not a word that can be used.”

Food supplies and fresh water were sent to both tankers on Wednesday.

The Dubai charter office could not be reached for comment.

“I can’t comment on the wages because a court case is going on. The court will decide about the salary,” said Aishwarya Pilankar, managing director of Nautical Marine Management Services from the Mumbai office.

“The crew have filed a case in court for their salaries and answers will be given in court. About the men, 70 per cent are off the ship and for the remaining 30 per cent it will be done soon.”

The company had earlier said permissions and clearances to get the men off board took time.

The men were stuck on the tankers for about 80 days after the ships were “arrested”, or restricted to the area, on February 27 by an Indian high court order following a maritime claim for damages by Dubai-based chartering company Nautical Global Ship Management against Ajman-based owners Gulf Shipping Services.

Nautical has detailed damages due to faulty machine and equipment and petitioned the court to arrest the ship on grounds that the owners would not pay for losses suffered.

The crew also filed a petition on their wages.

When supplies ran low last week, sailors sent out a distress call and a boat stocked with lentils, rice, bread, flour and eggs was sent to the two tankers by a charity group.

Although the crew had wanted assurances on wages before disembarking, the prolonged stand-off, isolation and meagre supplies prompted most to leave.

"Emotionally, it has been difficult for the men. They had hoped they would have money in the bank after working for so many months but now they just wanted to go back," said Michael Kochikaran, captain of the Nautical Global VII.

“This was the final stage the guys reached. The only thing they wanted was to touch the land, reach home.”

There have been several cases of seamen stuck on ships because of disputes between shipping companies.

Joseph Chako, from the Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association, said their wellbeing should be taken care of.

“It is a very pathetic situation. It was a jail-like situation on the ship but even in jail you get food and here they were even deprived food for some time. Their welfare must be looked at because they are in a distressed state. They don’t know what their future holds.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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