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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Stranded tanker to finally leave Umm Al Quwain after two-day salvage operation

Families of sailors relieved their loved ones are finally coming home

After a 24-hour delay to fix a new anchor chain to the MT Iba, the stricken shipping tanker and its five crew will finally be towed away from Umm Al Quwain beach on Thursday.

The salvage operation followed negotiations between the seafarers, previous employer Waqar Ijaz Hussain of Alco Shipping and buyer Shark Power Marine Services of Dubai on Monday.

A meeting between the three parties, and Reverend Andy Bowerman of the Mission to Seafarers charity was organised to solve the crisis. It helped in the payment of $165,000, which will be given in two instalments. The amount is equivalent to about 70 per cent of the total wages the sailors are owed.

To know they are finally on their way home is the answer to all of our prayers

Pawan Kumar

A tug boat arrived early on Tuesday to attach tow ropes to the Iba and removed it from the sandbank before taking it to anchorage, about 25 kilometres offshore from Al Hamriyah.

The operation was delayed on Wednesday, when police cordoned off roads leading to the public beach after crowds gathered to watch the 5,000-tonne vessel being dragged out to sea.

“To know they are finally on their way home is the answer to all of our prayers,” said Pawan Kumar, the older brother of second engineer Vinay Kumar, who

has been on board the stricken ship since 2018.

“It has been very difficult for us to manage our lives without him,” said Pawan.

Once the seafarer’s travel documents are updated and a berth is secured at Dubai Maritime City, the tanker will be towed into port. That is likely to happen within two weeks.

A replacement crew of 13 men is already prepared and waiting to take control of the MT Iba before it returns to work in the Arabian Gulf.

The 43-month ordeal of the five existing crew will finally be over when they disembark in Dubai.

The ship first encountered problems in 2019 when Alco Shipping suffered financial problems and could not pay mounting debts.

Crew were unable to leave the vessel until the ship was sold to settle those debts. That finally happened this week.

“We are eagerly waiting for Vinay to come home at last,” said Mr Kumar.

“With this money, his children will be able to go to school and we can pay for medicines for our parents.

“We are so happy this is finally happening.”

The sentiments were echoed by Husnain Ali, the eldest son of Pakistani second engineer Riasect Ali, who, at 52, is a senior crew member and has been on the ship since July 2017.

“We know the UAE government has been doing its best for the crew and we are grateful to the Mission to Seafarers for their work,” said Husnain, 21, who has two younger brothers, 14 and 18.

“Living for four years without our father has been so difficult. Not to have him around has been very hard for everyone. We have all missed him greatly.

“We have had to make some very difficult decisions for the family without him.

"We are just young boys and we have had no experience in these things.”

Two other Indian crew members, ordinary seamen Nirmal Singh Bora, 22, and Monchand Shaikh, 26, will also fly home to their families.

Chief engineer Nay Win, 53, from Myanmar will also return home. He was instrumental in galvanising international support for his colleagues after their abandonment.

The crew has faced severe hardship during their time on board, and will take time to recover.

“There has been no other source of income for the family, and the crew have been tortured physically and mentally by their experience,” said Husnain.

He is a trainee doctor but may lose his university place due to unpaid tuition fees after his father was not paid for years.

“They wanted to go home but took on the responsibility of waiting for their money so they could support their families,” Husnain said.

“It was a great hardship for them to do this but was part of their sacrifice.

“Now they are coming home soon, it is like a miracle. I can’t wait to see my dad safely at home.”

Updated: February 18, 2021 12:47 PM

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