Abandoned sailor facing uncertain future as Myanmar turmoil unfolds

After 43 months at sea, Nay Win had hoped to be heading home this week – but a state of emergency has dashed his hopes

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A senior crew member on the stranded MT Iba vessel beached in Umm Al Quwain fears being left in limbo when he finally comes ashore due to political unrest in his home country of Myanmar.

It seems an age since Nay Win, 52, last set foot in Yangon with his family before taking up a role as chief engineer on board the Iba, owned by Alco Shipping of Sharjah.

When high winds caused the 5,000 tonnes vessel to break free of its rusting anchors on January 21, sending it towards land, the crew hoped their ordeal was finally coming to an end after 43 months at sea.

Communications problems in Myanmar are making it a challenge to get him home

The ship had been abandoned with crew unpaid since 2018 after financial problems beset its owners.

Now, as the crew anxiously await news of a potential buyer that would allow them to come ashore, Nay Win has real concerns about the unfolding turmoil at home.

"I have been told about the military coup in Myanmar and it could make it more difficult for me to return to my family," said Mr Win, who joined the Iba in July 2017.

“I was due to take a relief flight back home on February 15, but that is looking unlikely now, even though I have been told I will have my travel documents.

“Because of the unrest, I am worried about what kind of situation I will be going back to, or if I can not get there at all.

“The army has restricted communications via telephone lines and the internet, so it is difficult to get news from Yangon. It is a big worry.”

A military coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi plunged the country into chaos.

Army generals seized control of capital Nay Pyi Taw and declared a year-long state of national emergency. They cut internet access and phone lines in a bid to reduce civil unrest.

Meeting sailors stuck at sea for 43 months

Meeting sailors stuck at sea for 43 months

Like his four crew mates, Mr Win was hoping to fly home as soon as the Iba was towed to Dubai Maritime City and a new buyer was found. Those plans have been thrown into doubt.

Although two parties have expressed interest in purchasing the ship, thought to be worth about $1.3 million, outstanding salaries of about $170,000 can only be settled once it is sold.

Myanmar’s information black-out could create further issues for Nay Win, the only crew member from the country.

Mr Win has a son Twin Moe Aung, 21, and a daughter Ei Myat Moon, 17 who he has not seen in almost four years.

He desperately needs the money he is owed by his former employer to support them, as both paused their education due to unpaid tuition fees.

Andy Bowerman, director of regional operations for the Mission to Seafarers, said the charity’s lawyers have been working to find a solution to aid the crew’s repatriation.

“Nay Win’s passport is two years out of date so our lawyers have been trying to obtain special seafarer’s permission for him to enter Myanmar,” he said.

“We are still waiting to have that confirmed considering the current situation there.

“He has limited options as they are still some time away from a resolution to ensure they get the money they are owed.”

Once the Iba has been towed to DMC and the crew is signed off, they will be unable to leave the port.

That means Mr Win in will have to remain on the ship in dock indefinitely, unless authorities in the UAE grant special dispensation to stay in Dubai.

The other crew, one from Pakistan and three others from India will likely return home as soon as they are paid.

Mr Win only has an expired passport and his seafarer’s logbook as proof of identity, another potential stumbling block in his repatriation.

The crew are waiting for confirmation from the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and Federal Trasnport Authority to grant permission for the Iba to be towed to DMC.

A tugboat must wait until high tide, currently around 9pm, to perform the rescue operation at any time over the next few days.

“The communications problems in Myanmar are making it even more of a challenge to resolve Nay Win’s issue,” said Mr Bowerman.

“The crew need to reach an agreement as to how much they are willing to sign-off for, but that could be just 70 per cent of what they are owed.”