Near three-year nightmare at sea ends for last abandoned sailors off Dubai coast

Final four crew brought ashore after 34 months due to safety fears for tanker anchored off emirate

After 34 long months at sea, the final four abandoned crew on board the Tamim Aldar shipping tanker have been allowed to come ashore in Dubai.

Second engineer Vikash Mishra, 35, expects to be back home with his wife and two children within days as his long nightmare on board an abandoned shipping tanker finally ends.

His vessel has been anchored more than 37 kilometres off the UAE coast since 2017.

The crew has not been paid for 29 months and have been living in horrific conditions with no air-conditioning, power or fresh water.

"It is a miserable life, and very difficult to survive."

The merchant navy sailors have been surviving on basic rations of rice and dal for months following a dispute with their employer, Elite Way Marine Services.

Mr Mishra, an Indian national, was one of more than 30 crew left abandoned on board several vessels when the UAE shipping company hit financial difficulty.

“At 9pm on Thursday I took a voice message to say we could finally come ashore, it was an amazing moment,” said Mr Mishra, who is from Varanasi, a northern city in Uttar Pradesh.

“By 10pm, a boat had come to take us in.

“The authorities had spoken with our company, that offered to pay us 70 per cent of our salaries.

“We are still negotiating, as I have to support my whole family but we are just glad to be off the ship at last.”

Mr Mishra has a wife, Vinita and two children aged three and eight and is awaiting repatriation with his compatriot, chief engineer Arso Lobo, 49, and two Eritrean sailors.

The men are in temporary accommodation on a barge in port at Dubai, under the care of emergency response specialists Mubarak Marine.

All other abandoned vessels and crew were brought ashore and repatriated earlier this summer.

That followed lengthy negotiations with the Indian Embassy, Federal Transport Authority and Mission to Seafarers charity.

The humanitarian organisation has been servicing the abandoned tankers with fuel, food and other emergency supplies.

The final four remaining crew on the Tamim Aldar made a desperate bid for shore last month in a small escape vessel, when their ship began dangerously listing.

Without power, it had become an obstacle in a busy shipping lane and posed a collision threat in the channel at night.

The four men were plunged into new depths of despair when their lifeboat was intercepted by the coastguard, and the crew ordered to return to the tanker.

Days later, the vessel was towed closer to a safer anchorage near Dubai until the issue of unpaid salaries could be resolved and the men allowed to return home.

Despite the golden beaches of Jumeirah being tantalisingly close, the crew were forced to wait a further three weeks in the blistering hot sun for their case to be answered.

They must now wait to be flown back to their home countries.

“When I left India my daughter Tanya was just nine months old, now she is almost four,” said Mr Mishra, who said he is owed $71,550 (Dh263,000) in unpaid salary.

“I am worried she will not know who I am. Because of the abandonment I could not pay for my father’s medical bills either.

“He is a farmer and very poor so it has been very difficult for everyone.”

The Tamim Aldar remains anchored at sea, and is expected to be towed into port.

In July, tough new maritime laws were announced in a bid to clamp down on rogue shipping operators who exploit vulnerable crew.

The UAE’s draft maritime law will come into force in early 2020.

Abdullah Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Federal Transport Authority-Land and Maritime, said it will hand stronger powers to maritime authorities and the country’s ports to combat the problem of abandonment.

Updated legislation will allow vessel registration under the Emirati flag and establish a new dispute mechanism to relieve pressure on the courts, and update rules on insurance and collisions at sea.

“A seafarer’s life is very difficult,” said Mr Mishra.

“We are far from our families, and when we are at sea we lose touch with them.

“When abandonment happens, companies do not care about us, even though we are fully dependent on them.

“Being on board for so long was very difficult, but the hardest thing was not being in contact with our family and being unable to support them.

“It is a miserable life, and very difficult to survive.

“I hope this new law ensures no other seafarer [will] suffer the way we have.”