Indonesian government is illegally holding three Indians hostage, demanding ransom from the owner of the ship they were on to cover cost of cleaning shipwreck on beach; mid-day reaches out to one of the hostages
The wreck of MT Aashi off the Nias Islands in Indonesia
- The issue of accident and spillage is between the company and Indonesian authorities
- So we moved the ship towards the coastal area in Indonesia
- They assured all help and they went away Salam said
Three Indian seafarers have been held hostage by the Indonesian authorities for the past seven months after a Gabon-flagged ship, MT Aashi, got grounded near Nias Islands on February 15, causing serious environmental damage. The seafarers’ union has dubbed the seafarers’ situation as a serious violation of the tenets of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and Human Rights. The union has said that Indonesian authorities have no legal rights over the seafarers, who have nothing to do with the ship’s wreckage.
The MT Aashi was carrying asphalt from Dubai to Indonesia
Crucial documents, in possession of mid-day, reveal that the three Indian seafarers—Captain Sanjeev Kumar Bhaskar, Chief Engineer Sanjay Kumar Pandey and Chief Officer Siyab Salam—have been declared innocent in the investigation carried out by Indonesian authorities.
“The issue of accident and spillage is between the company and Indonesian authorities. It is the responsibility and liability of the owner and Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Club of the vessel to compensate the damages caused by the grounding of the vessel MT Aashi,” Abhijeet Sangle, working president of All India Seafarer and General Workers Union, told mid-day.
“The Indonesian authorities conducted a thorough investigation in the matter and these Indian seafarers, who cooperated with them in the probe, have been found innocent. Yet, they have been held hostage because the Indonesian authorities are yet to be paid by the company for the environmental damage. The Indonesian authorities have illegally kept these Indian seafarers hostage for the last seven months,” Sangle added.
Chief Officer Siyab Salam, one of the hostages
Hole in the vessel
mid-day spoke to one of the hostages, Chief Officer Salam, whose family lives in Nalasopara. Recounting the grounding, Salam said, “The vessel was loaded with asphalt and we were heading from Dubai to Indonesia. The weather condition was good till February 10, but soon it deteriorated and we noticed that the vessel was titled towards the right side. Our crew inspected and learnt that there was a hole in the vessel. So we moved the ship towards the coastal area in Indonesia.”
“After obtaining due permission from the Indonesian authorities on February 13, we anchored the vessel at Nias Islands where the concerned local agencies arrived and checked the damage of the ship. They assured all help and they went away,” Salam said.
“On February 13, the weather further deteriorated and Indonesian authorities did not arrive because of it. By this time, the vessel started to sink further. It was February 17 when we decided to abandon the vessel by getting off on two lifeboats. There were a total of 20 seafarers on board and we all reached the coastal area on the lifeboats. Currently, more than 80 per cent of the ship is submerged,” he added.
Chief Officer Siyab Salam’s mother, Mariamma, wife, Samreen (right) and 20-month-old son. Pic/Hanif Patel
“The Indonesian navy and coast guard received us and provided us with immediate medical attention. Later, the Indonesian authorities reached out and began the investigation. On February 24, 17 crew members were allowed to go home and we three were asked to stay back to complete their investigation,” Salam said.
“Our passports have been confiscated by Indonesia’s immigration department and the harbour master has kept all the vessel-related documents. The Indonesian authorities have completed their investigation, yet we are stuck here since February,” Salam added. Salam further claimed that he had not received his salary for the last three months.
Salam’s mother, Mariamma Salam, has been running from pillar to post to bring her son back. She has also written to the Director General (DG) of Shipping and alleged that Salam ‘has been held hostage illegally by the Indonesian authorities in the name of investigation’.
“My son is the only earning member in the family but he has not been paid the salary by the company. My son is mentally stressed and depressed due to the traumatic situation. Please bring back my son,” Mariamma wrote to the DG Shipping.
The All India Seafarer and General Workers Union during a meeting with the Indonesian Embassy in Mumbai
Salam’s wife, Samreen, told mid-day, “It is very difficult to manage the household. We have been completely traumatised since February. My husband was supposed to come back to India after this assignment. Our 20-month-old son has seen his father only on video calls.”
“We have been constantly trying to seek help. We request the government to please help bring my husband back to India. We are financially and emotionally broken by this situation,” Samreen added.
Violation of rules
“As per the Guidelines on Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of Maritime Accident, no ‘seafarers should be held hostage pending the resolution of a financial dispute’. We have been following this issue for the last seven months and we have also met the officials at the Indonesian Embassy in Mumbai. These officials had assured us of releasing the seafarers,” Sangle told mid-day.
“We are also in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs and the office of DG Shipping. We have also met them four times since June. They also assured help but nothing has been done so far,” Sangle added.
President of the Union Sanjay Pawar (first on left), Working President Abhijeet Sangle (second from left) and General Secretary Amar Singh Thakur (third from right) with Indonesian Embassy officials in Mumbai
“The seafarers have been held back by Indonesian authorities to complete their investigation into the ship’s wreckage which is causing environmental damage. The local police, coast guard, port authorities, etc. have not found the Indian seafarers responsible for any damage. But the vessel owner has yet to fulfil the demands of Indonesian authorities. Holding the Indian seafarers hostage is a violation of the ILO and the IMO as per the guidelines,” Sangle told mid-day.
“The owner of the vessel has not disclosed the amount demanded by the Indonesian authorities for the environmental damage,” said Sangle. According to sources, the Aashi Shipping Company has written to the Far East P&I Services on August 13, informing them that the owners are not in a position to carry out the de-fueling/bunker removal. They have left it to the P&I to execute the same. The owners have also declared the vessel as Constructive Total Loss (CTL) and requested P&I to handle the issues accordingly.
Action by authorities so far
“On August 15, the Acting Director General of Sea Transportation, Indonesia, sent a notice to the Maritime Administration of Gabonese Republic; ship owner; the manager/operator-Al Phoenix Ship Management Fze, UAE, P&I Insurers and the agents about the grounded vessel and its current condition. The Indonesian side has informed them to take the required action for the removal of the vessel, removal of oil and asphalt from the vessel, prevention of further pollution, etc. as it may have a serious impact on Indonesian waters and coastline. They have also suggested them to contact/coordinate with the Director for Sea and Coast Guard and Local Harbour Master of Lahewa-North Nias to provide regular updates,” said the source.
“On August 21, a virtual meeting comprising all stakeholders including a representative of the ship’s owner; the insurance company; DG, Shipping of India; the Officer of Indonesian Sea Transportation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Embassy of India in Jakarta; the Consulate General of India in Medan, etc. was held. During the meeting, the embassy raised the issue of the repatriation of the three seafarers and requested Indonesian authorities not to link the matter with ship salvage as it is the responsibility of the owner and the insurance company and they have shown their intent to carry out the same,” said an official from DG Shipping requesting anonymity.
“The Embassy of India in Jakarta and Consulate General of India in Medan are making best efforts and have been coordinating with concerned authorities for early repatriation of three crew members to India,” said the official.