Stranded seafarers to return home after years abroad

Three year-long ordeal finally coming to an end as seafarers sign payment agreements

Vikash Mishra, left, with Rev Andy Bowerman of the Mission to Seafarers, a charity supporting abandoned crew in Dubai. Courtesy Mission to Seafarers
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Four sailors who were stranded off the coast of the UAE for almost three years are expected to return to their home countries within a week.

The men had been left onboard the MV Tamim Aldar shipping tanker since March 2017 after their employer, Elite Way Marine Services, hit financial difficulties and was unable to maintain its fleet or pay the crew their salaries.

On August 8, the men were given clearance to come ashore after the derelict ship became too dangerous for them to stay on. Most of the 40 abandoned crew returned home, following intervention from the Federal Transport Authority and embassies.

But Indian seafarers Vikash Mishra and Arso Lobo and Eritrean crewmen Welday Mehari and Capt Tesfamikiel Keflemariam chose to stay, spending months in temporary accommodation within the heavily restricted Dubai Maritime City, waiting to be paid the tens of thousands of dollars they are owed in backdated salary.

Last week, Elite Way offered the men 80 per cent of their total payments in a settlement that will allow them to finally return home to their families. The company came to an agreement with one of the crewmen on Wednesday - and sent The National a copy of the agreement signed by Capt Keflemariam.

The following day, a representative of the company told The National: "the remaining three crew received their salaries and closed their accounts."

Mr Mishra, 35, confirmed this, saying he had signed the agreement but was waiting for his entry visa from the UAE to be issued within “two or three days” so he may officially enter the country to be able to leave it.

The Abdulrazzaq is now docked at Mubarak Marine in Dubai Maritime City. It is one of several vessels owned by Elite Way Marine Services from which abandoned crew were rescued in 2019. Courtesy: Mission to Seafarers

“I am very happy now because after 39 months at sea I will see my kids and my family,” he said.

Mr Mishra expects to leave the UAE by Tuesday, should his paperwork come through.

“It has been a really difficult time and finally it will end. I have been through a lot horrible moments during this abandonment.

“This struggle has been painful and full of sadness.”

He said, however, that support from the Mission to Seafarers group - a charity that provides emergency aid to stricken vessels - the Consul General of India media coverage and helped them reach this stage.

The payment will come as a major relief for Mr Mishra, who has missed four Diwalis and eight of his children’s birthdays.

He is owed $80,000 (Dh294,000) and the years away from home have caused issues between him and his family, who include his wife, son Rajnish, 9, and daughter, Tanya, 3.

“My family think I am in trouble with the police or something,” said Mr Mishra.

“My daughter was eight months old when I left, she does not know who I am. My wife has shown her photos, but she does not understand.

“My son is very disturbed. I have told him I am coming home for each Diwali, but that has not happened. He no longer believes me and is angry.

“He is embarrassed at school when his father cannot come and pay his school fees.”

Emergency response specialists Mubarak Marine has been mediating their case, and on December 19, the men signed their payment agreements. The settlement could not have come sooner.

Mr Mishra  borrowed more than $15,000 (Dh55,000) from friends to support his children while he has been away from his Mumbai home, but their patience is running out.

His wife Vinita, 32, is also losing nearing the end of her tether.

“The location on my social media just says I am in Dubai, so people do not believe my story or understand what is happening to me,” he said.

His crewmate Mr Lobo, 49, was chief engineer on the MV Tamim Aldar, a vessel he joined in May 2017.

He is owed $78,000 (Dh287,000) in unpaid salary and speaks to his 14-year-old son for just 15 minutes, twice a month.

Mr Lobo said, despite being safely on land, life has been difficult.

“All we can do is eat and sleep, there is no entertainment and nothing for us to do here,” he said.

Mr Mehari, 41, who was the ship’s boatswain - in charge of equipment on deck- has four children aged 6 to 13 and is owed $19,000 (Dh70,000).

“I have spoken to my family just six times in two years,” he said.

“They are very strong.

“I need to pay for school fees and uniforms. My friends have helped, but I feel ashamed.

“When I speak with my children I tell them I will be going home very soon. I am not sure they believe me.

“I am fed up with this life and 90 per cent sure I will not go back to sea.

“My family will not allow me.”

Mr Mehari said his lowest point was when his ship anchored 46 kilometres off the UAE coast began listing and water was coming in through the rusting hull.

The crew made a decision to board a dilapidated lifeboat to reach shore.

Without any immigration papers and unable to leave a 120 metre tanker unmanned in the Arabian Gulf, the men were intercepted and turned back by the coastguard.

Weeks later, their ship was eventually towed in to shore.