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Monday, March 1, 2021

ship abandonment - plight of crew for 4 years !!


A ship is mammoth and wonderful to look at – it impresses people beyond a point.  It is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans carrying goods or passengers and for some other special purposes. Ships are generally distinguished from boats, based on size, shape, load capacity, and tradition.  Ships have supported exploration, trade, warfare, migration, colonization, and science.   Ship transport is responsible for the largest portion of world commerce. Cargo ships are classified into various types on the basis of purpose, size, type of cargo etc. The economic factor is of prime importance in designing a merchant ship. Every owner wants maximum return on their investment which means a ship’s construction not only depends on the current economic necessities but the factor of future adaptability also plays a part. 

Umm Al-Quwain is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates that united in 1971. The city is located on the peninsula of Khor Al Bidiyah, with the nearest major cities being Sharjah to the southwest and Ras Al Khaimah to the northeast.  .. .. it is a ship that is stranded at this place, in news !!

Ships sail from one port to another carrying passengers and cargo .. .. and .. .. sometimes they are abandoned ! by its owners (like a stray animal left in lurch by its owner) when it becomes less expensive than continuing to operate – with debts mounting – of port fees, crew wages and the like.  The abandoned ships may remain, often with their crews as hostages, in a port for extended periods, with the crew unpaid, and possibly dangerous cargo onboard.  In many cases the crew cannot leave without losing their right to be paid.  When the case is agitated in a Court of Law,  the sale of the vessel can be ordered, but this can take many months.  

In law, abandonment is the relinquishment, giving up or renunciation of an interest, claim, civil proceedings, appeal, privilege,possession, or right, especially with the intent of never again resuming or reasserting it.  In general, to abandon is to give up or renounce. However, the word abandonment is used in different senses in marine.  Abandonment affects real people, often leaving them in a desperate plight. Loss of wages impacts the seafarer and their family. Health may suffer and there may not be medical help. Food supplies may run out. Uncertainty about how and when the seafarer or seafarers can get home can cause a huge toll.  

Tourists are more accustomed to seeing kite surfers or kayaks off the idyllic coast of Umm Al Quwain, in the United Arab Emirates. But now,  they have gathered on sun loungers to sip coffee and gaze at the unusual sight of a 5,000-ton oil tanker grounded on the sand. For the crew inside the Panama-flagged MT Iba, however, being grounded on the beach marks another harrowing chapter in an almost four-year ordeal at sea. It is one of the worst cases of seafarer abandonment to come to light since that of Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan, whose 18-month plight on the MV Azraqmoiah cargo ship off the coast of the UAE was highlighted by the Guardian in 2019.  Abandoned by the vessel’s owner, their wages unpaid for 32 months, the five-person crew of the $4m (£2.8 million) Iba are in limbo. If they leave the ship they will lose their claim to the hundreds of dollars owed to them.


Nearly four years into their odyssey at sea, the five-member crew of oil tanker MT Iba [ex-Titan Brave] is tantalizingly close to shore, yet still unable to set foot on dry land. Bleary-eyed and wearing tattered clothes, the men are exhausted from an ordeal that has kept them from their families and aboard the 5,000-tonne vessel long after its owner abandoned it in the Gulf. What started out as a regular seafaring job turned into what the men call a nightmare, when the tanker's owner, Alco Shipping, fell into financial trouble and stopped paying their salaries 32 months ago. The crew was left to fend for itself, relying on donations from charities they contacted for food and hygiene supplies.

The tanker ran aground in Umm Al Quwain, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, in late January, after rough seas severed both of its anchors and pushed it to shore. Life aboard the ship has been arduous, said Indian engineer Vinay Kumar. "We've seen hell during this voyage," Kumar told Reuters during a recent visit aboard the battered ship. "We are like slaves ... We're begging for food." The crew is collectively owed around $230,000, said the charity's regional director Andy Bowerman, who is helping mediate negotiations between the sailors and Alco Shipping.

Crew onboard a tanker that ran aground in Umm Al Quwain are hoping that, after three-and-a-half years at sea, they will at last be able to go home. Five merchant sailors onboard MT Iba have spent 43 months at sea – and 32 months without pay – after the tanker’s owner, Alco Shipping Services, fell into a financial crisis. On Sunday, Maj Gen Sheikh Rashid Al Mualla, chief of UAQ Police and head of the local emergency team, chaired a meeting to resolve the problem. An Alco Shipping Services representative said the company would tow the vessel from the site when the weather conditions were right. There is a degree of urgency now for the men’s safety.   The company has searched for a buyer for the tanker so it can pay substantial debts to port authorities. Those negotiations were largely sidelined by the pandemic.  

Nay Win, the 53-year-old chief engineer from Myanmar, who was contracted to work on the ship for a year in 2017, says the crew have endured “terrible suffering” and are desperately worried about their families. “I cannot send wages to support my family, my children cannot study, they cannot eat, they have to borrow money.”   In January, the vessel, which is almost out of fuel, broke two anchors in rough seas in Al Hamriya Port, just north of Dubai. The crew spent a terrifying 12 hours as the Iba listed at an angle of 45 degrees and began drifting in the busy waters of the Gulf, before finally running aground on the sand, metres from the beach. If the crew set foot on land, they risk being detained for not having the right documents. Win’s passport, which expired while he has been at sea, remains with his former employer. And with a military coup at home, it is unclear how he will get a new one. Furthermore, international law prohibits “ghost ships” at sea without crew because they are a safety hazard.

Cases of seafarer abandonment are at a record high, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has said. Hotspots for abandonment are the Middle East and Asia, with the UAE top of the list in 2020, followed by China, Taiwan, Turkey and Italy. Liberia, Malta and Panama were the flag states with the most cases last year, IMO and International Labour Organization data showed.  The seafarers have agreed to stay on to do essential work on the ship before it is towed to Dubai, where they will wait 15 days for legal work on the sale of the vessel to be completed. They will then be paid the other half of the money they are owed, and repatriated. 

Sad plight indeed of those workers trapped on board the vessel and have remained surrounded by waters for years without setting foot on land. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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