In what turned out to be great drama in a courtroom, the captain of a Korean vessel, lying in the outer anchorage of the Chennai port, said he had abandoned the ship as he feared it would capsize since water had entered the engine room. Hours later, its entire crew vacated the ship and reached the shore around 5.30 pm.
MV OSM Arena had been anchored since February 2010 following cases filed by different parties against the owners in the Calcutta and Madras high courts to recover their dues. It has been under ‘arrest’ since September 2012.
When a matter pertaining to the sale of the ship came up before Justice R Sudhakar at the Madras High Court, the captain of the vessel, Yethi Ka, made a surprise appearance before the judge.
Yethi Ka said he had abandoned the ship on Tuesday morning and reached the shore using a fishing boat that was passing by. The ship’s 14-member Myanmarese crew had been surviving on dry rations alone since April 4, when the previous owners had stopped the supply of provisions, he said.
Besides, the ship had run out of diesel, so it was no longer in a position to pump out the water that was entering the engine room. The vessel could capsize if no urgent measures are adopted to stabilize it, he warned.
Meanwhile, with the situation getting dangerous, port officials rustled up a separate three-member crew and sent them to the ship for guard duty. They also lodged a complaint against the deserting crew, informed Chennai Port Trust chairman Atulya Mishra.
The ship is currently being monitored by the Coast Guard and the Navy. Tug boats have also been placed on stand-by, Mishra said.
According to International Transport Workers’ (ITF) Federation inspector K Sreekumar, “Initially, three members of the crew boarded a fishing boat and reached the shore at 9 am. We took them to the high court,” he said. In the evening, the rest of the crew abandoned the ship. They have been lodged at the Seafarers Club.
In December 2010, the Chennai port administration had ordered the vessel to anchor off the coast as it failed to pay the cost of berthing. In July 2011, the crew was replaced, as the health of most of the earlier bunch had deteriorated due to malnutrition and dehydration.
Following Cyclone Thane on December 30, 2011, OSM Arena had drifted towards the coast as its anchor winch snapped.
The Chennai Port Trust sent its engineers to repair the winch and sent two tugs to tow the ship to the high seas.
The crew had been periodically assisted by local unions who supplied them with water and food. In the courtroom on Tuesday, Justice Sudhakar said the ship had been put up for sale and had received sealed bids form buyers. A party to the case in the Calcutta High Court had sought stay on the confirmation of the sale, which was granted by a division bench of the court.
The original purchaser, who had agreed to buy the ship for `17.10 crore, requested time until May 7 to pay 25 per cent of the amount. Justice Sudhakar agreed and granted the time till May 7.
Apart from the stranded OSM Arena, Pratibha Cauvery was detained by the Madras High Court over non-payment of salaries to crew after it got stranded in Chennai coast following a cyclone on October 31 last.