DUBAI // Thirty-four Indian sailors and four Pakistani crew have been stranded aboard two oil tankers for more than two months off the coast of Kandla, in west India, because of unpaid wages and a legal dispute between ship owners and a UAE chartering company.
One sailor tried to jump into the sea on Tuesday distressed that he had not sent money home because he had not been paid for six months.
Rations ran so low last week that the captains of Nautical Global VII and Nautical Global XVI made SOS calls to the Kandla port authority pleading for food and water.
Both tankers were “arrested”, or restricted to the area, on February 27 by an Indian court order after a maritime claim for damages was filed by the chartering company Nautical Global Ship Management, based in Dubai, against Ajman-based owners Gulf Shipping Services.
“The man was suffering because he talks to his daughter who is crying because there is no food to eat and he thinks, ‘What is the use of being alive if I can’t take care of a small child?’ He was ready to jump when an alarm was raised and we reached him in time to talk to him,” said Capt Suchittar Kumar Sharma, of Nautical Global XVI, from anchorage about 15 nautical miles from Kandla.
“We told him his life was more precious for his family.”
The man was finally convinced to step away but Capt Sharma remains worried about his 19-man crew.
“Life is hell. There is no sign of our money, our families are starving and the men want to go home. I am like a dead man right now,” Capt Sharma said.
After about 80 days at anchor, the men are anxious to disembark but with four to six months wages unpaid, they worry about forfeiting their salaries.
“Mentally and physically we are completely tired. When there was no food, the men got desperate and fights started,” said Michael Kochikaran, captain of the Nautical Global VII, which has 18 men on board.
After the distress call last week, a boat with supplies of lentils, rice, bread, flour and eggs was sent to the vessels.
A court case filed by Nautical Global Ship Management in March detailed damages to faulty engines and equipment and asked the court to arrest the ship since it was unlikely that the owners would pay for the losses suffered.
The crew also filed a petition on their wages in the high court.
The Dubai charters office could not be reached, while the Mumbai branch office said the issue was being resolved.
“We are trying to get this cleared and hope it will be done in the next few days,” said Nitin Desai, general manager of Nautical Marine Management Services. “Permissions are required and that is taking time. The salaries of the crew are secure with the high court.”
Government officer Capt Sanat Kumar Shukla, with the mercantile marine department in Kandla, said the crew needed to be taken care of.
“They are in bad shape. They remain on board because they are worried they will forfeit lodging [wages] because if it is an abandoned ship then things become complicated,” he said.
Joseph Chako, from the Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association, said in previous similar cases sailors were not paid.
“The sailors are still struggling to get their salary. The crew are caught between the owners and the charter agents. Basically all they want to do is go home.”