Stranded on nightmare ship, 36 crew beg to be rescued

Apr 04, 2013, 09:28 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

At least 36 crewmembers of a dredger vessel, most of them residents of the city, have been living in peril ever since their ship was marooned mid-sea off Kandla in January, their company having washed its hands off them after reportedly claiming to be bankrupt

With each passing day, time is running out for the anxious sailors, who are running dangerously low on food, fuel supplies and other provisions, none of which have been replenished by Jaisu Shipping Co Pvt Ltd, a shipping company based in Kandla, Gujarat that owns the vessel. In fact, the company hasn’t even bothered to send technicians to rectify the technical problems that stranded the ship mid-sea.

Dwindling supplies
Speaking to MiD DAY from the stranded vessel Kamal XL, Captain Mohan Pillai (60) said, “The dredger is at present lying 14 nautical miles into the sea. It is completely unsafe for the crew. The company owners have stopped our supply of provisions, fresh water and diesel for the past few weeks and we are left with few food grains and vegetables that could last for just two to three days.

Due to non-availability of diesel, the generators aren’t working, and the vessel is experiencing permanent blackout. Fuel in the gas stoves that are being used for cooking will last for just a few more days, but no new gas cylinders have been supplied. We will soon be forced to burn wood for cooking.

The vessel Kamal XL, which is stranded off Kandla in Gujarat

We are facing severe scarcity of drinking water and food. Some of the crewmembers including myself are on medication, and yet have no access to medical support in case an emergency arises.” He added, “Both main engines of the vessels are unserviceable, with one being in a dismantled condition for repair and the port engine being non-operational. Because of this, the vessel is not operational. The sea is rough at times.

The company owners have stopped supply of provisions, fresh water and diesel for the past few weeks and supplies are dwindling

We fear that the anchored vessel can be dragged in the direction of winds or sea current, and we wont be able to do anything to save ourselves, as even the life-saving gear and fire-fighting appliances on board have passed their expiration date, with no safety inspections being carried out by the company. The entire crew is on tenterhooks about an impending disaster.”

The vessel’s third officer Krishna Nair said from the vessel, “The condition of the vessel is very unhygienic due to lack of regular fumigation; it is infested by a population of rats, cockroaches and bedbugs. The bugs can be spotted in the crew cabins, kitchens and toilets.”

He added, “Due to lack of diesel and oil, there is no electricity on board. Emergency lights are used for few hours, and there is great danger of pirate attacks. The VHF/MF/HF/SSA systems are not working. In case of any danger, we wont be able to seek rescue and contact the shore or other ships.”

Captain Pillai said, “Even the shore passes and boat services have been curtailed, thanks to which the crew could not leave the vessel and are trapped in the middle of the sea. The company has withdrawn communication from the vessel. We have learnt from other sources that the management of the company has cited bankruptcy as a reason, which is unbelievable.”

The vessel left Mumbai on November 24 last year. Most of the crewmembers were first-timers on board and had paid hefty commissions to their agents for the jobs. Two Mumbai-based recruitment agencies had made recruitments for the vessel. The chief engineer on board is 70-years-old while Pillai is 60. Some of the crew claim meagre salaries of Rs 4,000 as cadets.

Captain Pillai added that the company hasn’t paid a single staff member on board in the past six months, making repeated promises of payment but never honouring them. The company allegedly owes a total of Rs 45 lakhs to crew.

“We haven’t been able to provide for our families and some of us haven’t been able to pay our EMIs for months or send money for the treatment of aged relatives. In fact, family members from home keep fuelling balance into their mobile phones so they can keep in touch with their loved ones,” said Nair.

Captain Pillai added, “The company owns more than 15 similar vessels, and we have learnt that some of them are anchored off Mumbai and Cochin, their crewmembers facing similar problems as we are. The lives of 500 crewmembers on different vessels owned by the company are at stake.”

Bigwigs speak

Milind Deora, Minister of State for Shipping
Milind Deora I am not aware of this particular incident. However the Ministry of Shipping through DG of shipping tries to coordinate with and assist seafarers and takes up their issues with the shipping companies they are working for. I am sure the same would be done by the DG of shipping even in this case.

Gautam Chatterjee, Director General of Shipping
Some representatives of the crew from the said company had met me two days back. The crewmembers should go by their agreement with the company, which it is defaulting. The master of the ship has every right under the Merchant Shipping Act to take the case to the court and get the ship arrested, a power which the Director General of Shipping does not have. The ship should then be auctioned and the proceeds of the auction could be used to clear the dues of the crewmembers. This is the second such incident after Prathiba.

Sunil Nair, spokesperson for National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI)
As of now the matter has not come to us, and I am learning of the same only from MiDDAY. The need of the hour is to ensure that the crewmembers are tugged and brought back to the shore at the earliest. The DG is the supreme authority and can ensure that the crew is brought back safely. Only once they are brought back can they decide on the future course of action. NUSI effectively takes up such issues with the respective companies for the benefit of seafarers.

The other side
Samip Kewalramani, chairman and managing director of Jaisu Shipping, said, “Everything will be solved by tomorrow and Pritam Kewalramani, the director of the company will personally look into the same.” Asked why the crewmembers haven’t been paid and supply of essentials called off, he said, “I am at a meeting and cannot speak at the moment.” He did not respond to calls till the time of going to print. Pritam Kevalramani, the company’s director, echoed, “I am at a meeting, I will speak to you later.” He did not respond to the calls made later.

Kamal XL has been marooned off Kandla since January; most crewmembers are Mumbai residents
Dwindling stock of food grains and vegetables may only last for another two-three days
Permanent blackout in the vessel due to non-availability of diesel, fuel in the gas stoves will last for just a few more days
Life-saving and fire-fighting equipment not serviced, and so, not fit to be used in case of emergencies

Go to top