32 Indian sailors stranded on two ships off Dubai coast amid pay row

The conflict between the sailors on the Maharshi Bhavatreya and the Maharshi Devatreya and the ships’ owners, Varun Shipping, may finally be resolved this month when the ships enter the dry docks for repair.

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DUBAI // Thirty-two sailors on two Indian tankers have been stranded off Dubai’s coast for eight months because of delays in paying their wages.

The conflict between the sailors on the Maharshi Bhavatreya and the Maharshi Devatreya and the ships' owners, Varun Shipping, may finally be resolved this month when the ships enter the dry docks for repair.

"As per meetings and emails with Varun owners representatives, Maharshi Bhavatreya is supposed to enter dry dock this month," said Amer Ali, executive director of Dubai Maritime City Authority.

"Once she finishes repairs, the Maharshi Devatreya will enter. Varun's financial situation may delay entering."

There are 16 sailors on each vessel. The shipping company has four ships in the Dubai Drydock and did not respond to requests for information. There have been several cases in of sailors being stranded on vessels offshore, running low on supplies but refusing to leave until salaries are paid.

The maritime authority over the past year has dealt with eight cases and resolved six of them after coordinating with owners, embassies and agents.

Food, water and diesel supplies to run the generators are provided on both ships by port officials, as the crew have no access to funds.

“Our role in cases of stranded ships in Dubai water is to ensure the safety of the crew on one hand, and that the ship is protected and all provisions are provided,” Mr Ali said. “We also communicate with the owner, managements and flag [country] to solve the crew problems.

“And we may take action to disembark the crew and seize the ship, in case of any possible danger that may occur to the crew or ship due to owner negligence or lack of action to ease the suffering of sailors.”

The sailors on the Devatreya appealed to the port in April when, amid stifling heat, the generator ran low and air-conditioning failed. They declined to leave when officials tried to advise them to disembark.

"In the Devatreya case, the authority boarded the ship and provided assistance to disembark all the crew in April," Mr Ali said.

“But they refused and the owner, after being pressured by us, started repairing the ship generators to improve conditions onboard.

“What happens is that, due to internal politics between the crew and ship owners, sometimes the crew refuses to disembark before they gain their wages.”

In email exchanges with Indian shipping authorities and the Indian media, sailors on both ships say they have not been paid for eight months. Varun has been selling assets to reduce debt and reorganise its business, Indian media report.

While the Devatreya has been anchored off Port Rashid since July last year, Bhavatreya anchored in December 2012.

The replacement crew took charge between October and November last year and their contracts expired this year.

“The crew was upset because they were not paid,” said Paul Burt, a senior chaplain of Mission to Seafarers, a welfare group that gives support to sailors in more than 260 ports.

“The port authority has been handling this case and the crew appears well looked after. But communication seems to have broken down between the owners and the seamen.

“My advice to the crew was to get off the boat because since the company is paying other crew wages, they would also pay them.

“But as we have seen on a number of occasions, the crew gets very agitated and refuses to leave until they are paid. There is a human element here that you cannot second guess.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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