CHENNAI: The New Year is unlikely to ring in festive cheer for the 10 Indian crew members of M V Azraqmoiah, who have been stranded at sea, five miles from Dubai port, after the United Arab Emirates owner of the vessel abandoned them without paying their salaries. The 10 crew members, including three from Tamil Nadu, are living on hope with minimal provisions and without passports, which were taken by the UAE Coast Guard after the vessel was detained by an Ajman court.
They are among 40 crew members of three Dubai-based Elite Way Marine Services EST vessels that have been detained by UAE. Thirty-eight of the crew members are Indian, MV Azraqmoiah Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan, a native of Nagapattinam, told Express in a telephonic conversation. Express’ efforts to contact Elite Way Marine Services EST for a response were in vain.
Swaminathan said the crew was stuck on the vessel as the company had not signed them off by paying their salaries.“We have been asking the company to sign us off since January 2018... Till November, the company has to pay us a minimum of 15 months of salary,” said Swaminathan, whose hometown was hit by the recent Cyclone Gaja.
“We approached UAE’s Federal Transport Authority, Indian consulate in Dubai, and ITF London. FTA banned the company’s vessels from commercial operation... It has filed a case against the company in a Dubai court,” he said. The Indian Consulate has been giving food and other provisions to the crew. “They said they could not intervene as the matter is sub-judice,” he said.
The crew wants high-level government intervention. Officials at the Ministry of External Affairs told Express the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai were working to resolve the issue at the earliest.
Without a penny to send home, the crew is not ready to vacate the ship till they are paid. “We did not get any salary from the company for the last one year. And with the natural disaster affecting my native place, the pending salary is more important to me,” he said.
According to Swaminathan the vessel’s cook has been working onboard for 33 months. “Recently his father passed away. We informed the company about the situation and urged them to clear him and send him back home immediately. But it failed to take action to do so. As a result, he couldn’t attend his father’s funeral ceremony,” Swaminathan said.
“They never help us in any emergency situation. We are very unsafe onboard. If anything happens to us, who will be responsible? They are not treating us like fellow humans... Not only are we struggling onboard, our family is struggling in our country without us and our salary... Passing each day onboard the ship is tough and the situation is getting worse,” he said.
P Muthuswamy, an advocate at Madras High court and legal coordinator, Sailors Helpline, says the crew members were recruited by a Navi Mumbai-based firm which is a Recruitment and Placement Services Licence (RPSL) holder. “The recruiting agent has moral responsibility to see that the crew is paid and ensure their safety. Since the recruiting firm failed, the Directorate General of Shipping should take stern action and the deposit amount with the RPSL agent, should be recovered and given to family members,” he added.
Manoj Joy, Community Development Manager, Sailors’ Society, said the immediate concern was the families of the crew members. “Our communication is open with some family members who require medical assistance. We will be providing them with basic emergency relief as early as possible,” he said.
A Menaga, Swaminathan’s wife, highlighted the struggle of the families.
“We have a child studying in standard 1. We have a lot of commitments from paying house rent to school fees and other expenses for our survival. We are really struggling for everything. Recently, our property was destroyed due to cyclone Gaja. We also have a housing loan and have to pay EMI which we cannot now. The salary is very important for us. It is hard-earned money,” she says.
Cook onboard 33 months, missed dad’s funeral
According to Swaminathan, the vessel’s cook has been onboard for 33 months. “Recently his father passed away. We told the company but it failed to clear him. He couldn’t attend the funeral,” he said.