Last 4 of the 7 Malaviya sailors return home after spending 18 months onboard marooned ship

Updated: 27 November, 2017 19:10 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Remaining crew members, including Mumbai's Clay Vaz, fly back home to families after spending nearly 18 months onboard vessel, which has finally been sold

After more than 18 months adrift, Mumbaikar Clay Vaz, 53, finally reunited with his family on Friday. Clay and three others were the last remaining crew onboard GOL Offshore Ltd's vessel Malaviya 7, which was arrested last July at Aberdeen, northeast of Scotland. The entire crew had been stranded after the troubled company faced liquidation - the members were directed by Scotland's court to stay put until the vessel's sale, money from which would be used to settle their pending salaries.

Clay Vaz (extreme right) with the other remaining crew members at Aberdeen airport
Clay Vaz (extreme right) with the other remaining crew members at Aberdeen airport

The crew members had started returning to India in batches, and this quartet was the last. The border security police (Scotland) had given an ultimatum to the four to leave the vessel by November 24 or face deportation, as their visas had expired.

Vaz with his wife and children

Reunited, at last
Speaking to mid-day, Clay said, "We left just in the nick of time, leaving behind painful memories of having spent more than a year and a half onboard with no money or future, thousands of miles away from our loved ones in India." "On November 22, when Clay checked his email, he saw that flight tickets had been mailed. That's how he found out they were returning. He was so happy... All of them were; they were going back to their families, after all," said his wife Assumption.

"It was a bittersweet moment for them - they were happy that they would see their loved ones but sad to leave behind the families and bonds they'd made with those who helped them through a difficult time." The Vaz household celebrated Clay's return, but unlike in the past, he didn't have any chocolates or gifts for them. He returned with a mere £200 (approximately Rs 17,000) and a worry about the future.

While he's decided to take some much-needed rest and be at home with his wife and children for the next two months, he's aware that his age is likely to pose a problem when he starts his job hunt. "I won't be able to do anything beyond technical work; that's what I have done all these years onboard a vessel," he said.

The sole support
"GOL Offshore stopped paying for food, water and other essentials March 2017 onwards, and it was only because of the tremendous support from the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) that we managed to survive. We couldn't have just walked off without the requisite permission, as our salaries and other emoluments that the company owed us would have got affected by our impulsive decision," said Clay.

"In the last few months, we became very close to the ITF members; they would ensure that every Tuesday, we were taken out of the vessel for sightseeing - we didn't have a valid visa, so they would arrange for the invitations, which would give us access to places around Aberdeen and Scotland." Given a chance, would he visit Aberdeen port again? It was an emphatic yes from Clay, who said, "The sea is my second home and I love my job; I would want my new job to be in the sea again."

When asked if he had visited GOL Offshore's office in town, Clay replied in the negative and said, "I heard that the office at Energy House has almost shut down, with just a handful of people reporting to work. It's unfortunate that a company I served for over 29 years, which was known as the best offshore shipping company in the country, is facing this manmade crisis today that has adversely impacted the lives of 1,300 employees and their families."

"I will go to the office on Monday and hand over my resignation letter, as expected," he added. "I'll also visit the Employee Provident Fund Office to check my account balance. Because I was onboard, I couldn't check earlier... I hope the company has at least been adhering to the statutory obligation of depositing employees' PF. If not, it's going to be a dire situation for me; I have given 29 years of my life to the company."

A ray of hope
The hopeless situation aside, Malaviya 7 crew members have been given at least one reason to smile - the sale of the vessel. Though the exact amount is unclear, Clay is confident that all those who were onboard the vessel will be paid their salaries and other emoluments from August 2016 till August 2017. And if there's any left after clearing the dues, they will be entitled for additional payment for staying for extra days, as per Scotland's court. A crew member said, "In September 2017, the Aberdeen Sheriff Court had directed that the vessel be sold to recoup the wages owed to the crew (approximately £6,12,000) by GOL Offshore."

The new captain
According to Clay, just a few days before they returned to India, chief engineer (a Polish national) of the bidder company, Hoyland Offshore, visited the vessel and inspected it.

"He was friendly and we interacted with him with ease. And just a day before our departure, the new captain, a Norwegian national, came onboard and inspected the engine room. Though we could not interact much with him, we learnt that Hoyland Offshore had already re-fuelled the oil tanks with 200 kilo-litres of fuel." "The company will also be paying the parking charges, applicable from November 7, 2017, onwards to Aberdeen port authorities - approximately £3,500 pounds for four days," added Clay.

However, before it is allowed to sail, the company will have to clear some technical glitches, such has changing the vessel's ownership - Malaviya 7 is registered in Mumbai. The vessel is in a sailing condition and has sufficient food and potable water onboard, courtesy Stella Maris, Apostleship of the Sea (the international seafarers' association).

Lawyers first
Clay said that as per Scotland court's norms, after it received payment from Hoyland Offshore, dues of the solicitors who represented the case in court would be cleared first. After that, the crew would be paid.

When asked by when they are anticipating the money to be deposited into their accounts, Clay said he was confident of it arriving by the second week of December, at the most. His dues of $11,500 for the last 12 months come to around Rs 7.5 lakh, he added, which, he rued, wasn't sufficient to start a business.

Meanwhile, here in HC...
The Bombay High Court had appointed a provisional liquidator on May 5, 2017, for the process. The bankrupt GOL Offshore owes crores of rupees to banks and financial institutions as well, for availing huge loans. The matter is due to be heard on December 4.

Subsequently, the Bombay Stock Exchange suspended trading on the company, which had 83,000 shareholders and 1,300 employees, with 37 vessels. Once an investor's favourite with a BSE share price anywhere between R800 and Rs 850 until mid-2000, it hit its lowest at Rs 10.10 on July 18, 2017, as per BSE records.

While most employees have been associated with the company for two to three decades, industry sources and insiders have expressed helplessness in getting their dues and fear for the worst. Over a hundred have been held at ransom, with the last salaries to the office staff given in early July 2017, and those too were the wages of October 2016. "Salaries since November 2016 are pending and the company has no intention of clearing those," said an insider.

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Rs 7.5 lakh
Pending dues Clay Vaz hopes to receive

Total number of employees of the firm

Years Clay Vaz has worked for GOL Offshore

Number of vessels owned by the shipping company

First Published: 27 November, 2017 15:17 IST

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