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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

light at last for the Myanmarese sailors of OSM Arena... none yet for vessel

So near and yet so far… oft repeated words… some times the plight of sailors is so bad… as was the case of these sailors from Myanmar, struck nearer Chennai, but not allowed to visit the mainland and struggling in a ship that no body cared for – with mounting dues the situation was only deteriorating day by day, until they got this relief through the Court.

The comparison may be invidious – a mighty ship with a lowly bird – but OSM Arena and Emus suffered a similar fate – no owner to claim for, no body to maintain and take care, nobody willing to maintain, no body to sell; more so with none to buy – no money – debts keep rising and uncertain future is totally bleak.. the birds touted to sell at 20000+ don’t find takers at 1300 even… and at some point of time, people were talking of market for everything, its egg, the bird and its nails even……………..  

The ill-fated South Korean flagged Bulk carrier cargo ship with IMO No. 8411334 and dimensions of 190 M length and 32 m beam with  call sign  - DSOC5 -  ‘OSM Arena’ got mired in to troubles one after another and got struck below the bow in muddy waters literally and legally.  Chennai was not the happiest of its ‘port of call’ when it arrived here in Jan 2010. Calcutta High Court passed an order that the said vessel should not to leave Portof Chennai without the leave of Calcutta High Court. Orders were passed directing the Custom authorities to ensure that the said vessel does not set sail without leave of the High Court, Calcutta. That slowly the vessel  forgot to sail and perhaps could do only once, ‘funeral voyage’ becoming the subject matter of litigation in  many different ways.  Though the vessel was advertised for sale, there were few takers and more litigation ensured that sale never fell through, money never changed hands; its poor occupants continued to live in shackles without visiting the shore though close to it, living in pathetic conditions with little food that too coming as courtesy.  

Then came the ‘cyclone Thane’ – a severe cyclonic storm which initially developed as a tropical disturbance within the monsoon trough to the west of Indonesia in end Dec 2011.  Thane made landfall early on December 30, on the north Tamil Nadu coast between Cuddalore and Pondy; it uprooted trees and structures and caused devastation in its trail and ….. moved the unfortunate OSM Arena from the outer anchorage.. fortunately, it did not run aground but got dangerously closer to the shore, as its anchor failed to hold it firmly.  With efforts of Madras Port it was salvaged; by that time
Chennai Port  was already cursing its fate of allowing the vessel and then securing its arrest.

The last thing that sailors would do ~ of abandoning the vessel, had to be performed as the crew left the vessel OSM Arena citing distress; they were reportedly granted shore passes on Apr. 10, 2013. Leaving the vessel in the outer anchorage of Chennai Port, the 14 crew members entered the city, in a boat, via the fishing harbour.  Soon there after, the ship’s captain, Yethi Ka, informed the Madras High Court that he had ordered the crew to abandon ship as it was unstable.  The sailors met the foreigners regional registration officer N. Kannan and explained the circumstances that forced them to make the decision. “They claimed to have abandoned ship under distress conditions.  The Myanmar sailors said they had been starving for long and survived on dried food. Unable to bear the hardships and fearful of the instability of the ship, they abandoned it and reached the shore with the help of local fishermen.

The sailors stayed at the Seafarers club and the 14 Myanmarese sailors of OSM Arena, stranded off the city coast since 2010, were on mercifully allowed to leave the country by the Madras High Court.  Sources quoting Chennai Port Trust chairman Atulya Misra said a police complaint had been filed against the crew members for deserting the ship, which is anchored off Chennai Port. When an application relating to the sale of the vessel came up before Justice R. Sudhakar of the Madras High Court, the Captain said the former owner of the vessel had supplied food to the 14 crew members until April 4. Thereafter, the supply stopped and the crew survived on dried food alone. Since the ship’s generators had run out of fuel, there was a blackout on the vessel and water was entering its engine room, he said.

In his order, Justice Sudhakar said the ship had been brought for sale by sealed bids. One of the parties, a plaintiff before the Calcutta High Court, filed a petition here seeking a stay on the ship’s sale. A division bench granted an interim stay on confirmation of the sale order. The buyer who agreed to purchase the ship for Rs. 17.10 crore had sought time till May 7 to pay 25 per cent of the sum. In view of the interim order by the Bench, Justice Sudhakar granted time till that date. TOI further reports that the owner of the vessel finally tried to get his act together by rustling up a fresh team to man the vessel. While two new crew members boarded the tub on Wednesday, 12 more are expected to join them by Thursday, Chennai port officials said. It is stated that had ship owner Shinhan Bank shown the same level of alacrity a few months ago, the problems could perhaps have been addressed. For, multiple attempts by Ye Thi Ha, the captain who abandoned the ship, to contact Bank had failed. The stressed out 14-member Myanmarese crew now wait for their turn to return to Yangoon at the earliest.

The ship Captain Ye Thi Ha is quoted as sharing his plight with Express, that the ship’s two lifeboats were defunct and its five life rafts became useless way back in 2010. He said the base of the sea chest in the engine room was leaking and needed immediate repair. Besides, water had entered the cargo hold. The ship could capsize any moment during bad weather, he warned. Ye Thi Ha is among three crew members who follow English. Meanwhile, talks are on between Kolkata-based company LMJ International and South Korean Shinhan Bank to settle the dispute over the vessel.

International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) inspector K Sreekumar said the sailors would have been imprisoned had the court not acknowledged their complaint. The court order is a lesson for the authorities as it is obvious such cases should be viewed on humanitarian grounds," he said. Captain Ye Thi Ka also thanked the ITF, immigration department and a group of advocates who helped the sailors to approach the court and get justice.

So at last some light for the sailors, still none for the vessel OSM Arena…….

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
29th April 2013.

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