Rescue in sight for sailors trapped at sea without pay for two years

Federal Transport Authority and Mission to Seafarers charity work to release 40 men from damaged vessels

Forty sailors left stranded at sea for more than two years could be brought ashore by next week.

The men have been living offshore due to a legal dispute and have been unable to leave their ships and enter the UAE, as their passports have been retained by their employers, according to charities working with the crew.

The National understands that the legal process to release the vessels will be concluded next week and a global operation to raise money for the seafarers, who have not been paid for 27 months, has collected Dh147,000 to cover their administration costs and send them home.

The funds were collected by the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network and Mission to Seafarers, a charity in Dubai. British charity Justice Upheld have also been working to help the men, who are anchored about 50 kilometres from Umm Al Quwain,

They have posted videos online showing their living conditions, and have been surviving off rice and dhal and with limited safety equipment — their lifeboat has no battery and an emergency generator is damaged.

One ship’s captain said he was also in need of medication for his high blood pressure.

The plight of the crew was first raised by Shaheen Sayyed, an Indian social activist living in Kuwait.

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“It is time for the seafarers to return home to their families and we are committed to making that happen as soon as possible,” said Rev Andy Bowerman, regional director for the Mission to Seafarers in the Gulf and South Asia.

“These men have missed many significant life events: births, marriages and even deaths. The father of one of the seafarers passed away before Christmas."

Rev Bowerman said the team from the Federal Transport Authority who have been helping the men will continue to work towards getting them the salaries they are owed. But for now, it was important they"return to a life that is truly life".

Ombudsman the International Transport Workers Federation and the FTA have been working to resolve the situation via the UAE maritime courts.

The exact details of the dispute were not confirmed, but it is understood the ships concerned are likely to be taken in by the FTA, with sailors from India, Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, the Philippines and Ethiopia brought ashore.

Embassies have been contacted to help with the repatriation of the men, as well as organising the replacement of passports and identification documents.

“We have a several-pronged approach,” said Rev Bowerman. “We are working closely with the FTA and embassies here in the UAE, primarily the Indian Embassy.

“This includes supplying cash, food and equipment. We are also working with international welfare organisations and our local mission teams in India to provide practical and pastoral support."

Indian Consul General Shri Vipul said the consulate was aware of the matter  and has been working to resolve the situation.

"They are in deep distress and over the past three to four months we have worked with the FTA to press to resolve their issues. We hope that this gets done quickly.

"In the meantime, we have also remained in constant touch with the seafarers."

The Mr Vipul said the men's needs would be taken care of.

"The men are clearly traumatised."<br/> Jas Uppal, Justice Upheld

"As and when we succeed in getting the sign-off for the seafarers, we will immediately issue their passports, if required, and arrange for their air tickets to get back to India."

Paul Cortes, the Philippine consul general, said a country was not responsible for a boat that carried its flag, and that the manning agency or recruiter who hired the crew was required to work with the authorities to ensure repatriation.

“That is where we come in, but it is not easy as you cannot leave a vessel unattended and it can take months to resolve a situation.

“We get involved in these cases maybe three or four times a year.”

A new crew may have to be sent to man the ship in order for the men to go home.

In 2018, the compulsory insurance of crew was introduced to cover the salaries of sailors operating in UAE waters. Since then, the FTA says that reports of pay disputes and abandoned vessels have fallen.

The Justice Upheld charity launched a petition to help the men.

They claim that the company responsible for the ship confiscated the sailors' passports.

“The men are clearly traumatised," said Jas Uppal, founder of Justice Upheld.

“We understand that one of the seafarers is a diabetic – he has been denied access to medical treatment."