A 15-member crew, including 12 Indians onboard oil tanker MT B Elephant, has been under illegal captivity of the Egyptian Navy off Alexandria for almost four months. The tanker was seized and the crew detained by the Egyptian Navy and Telecom after the vessel allegedly damaged a submarine cable in Alexandria/Egypt territorial waters on March 22.
“The Indian Embassy promised that they would get us out by June 30. But nothing happened. We approached the Shipping Ministry, but in vain,” said Chief Officer of MT B Elephant Mukesh Kumar from Egypt.
According to maritime laws, any property damaged due to a vessel should be settled with the owners or the insurers without harassing the crew. The issue is currently under consideration before a court in Alexandria. It is the maritime duty of the ship owner and managers to pay the claim and they have agreed to do so. But the Egyptian Navy and Telecom have been making a huge claim of $40 million. “Claims settlement may take years, so the crew should be allowed to go home,” Mukesh said.
There were 17 crew members onboard, including 14 Indians, two Pakistanis and one Bangladeshi. About a week ago, the Egyptian Navy allowed a few engineers to sign off. However, all deck officers and crew were retained on the ship with no hope until the huge claims were paid. Second Engineer Amit Kumar Sinha of Ranchi was one of the engineers released from the vessel. Things have gone worse after the recent political unrest in Egypt. “We are not able to reach the government offices due to political crisis in Egypt,” Sinha said.
The incident should be viewed against the backdrop of the Enrica Lexie episode, said V Manoj Joy, national co-ordinator of Sailors Helpline, Chennai. “It is a mere accident on the sea. The Indian Government should intervene immediately and negotiate through diplomatic channels. The crew cannot be crucified for such incidents,” he said.
Meanwhile, in an e-mail to the crew, Vinay Shankar, Assistant Consular Officer with Indian Embassy, Cairo, said efforts are on for signing off the 13 crew members from the vessel. “Because of protests in Egypt, the offices are not working properly. Things will be settled soon,” said the e-mail on June 30.