Seafarers abandoned in UAE call for help on social media

Photo of the the seven crew abandoned in UAE waters on Dharma.

Seven Indian seafarers have reached out for help via social media, claiming they have been abandoned by Alco Shipping Service on tanker Dharma, on the UAE coast in Ajman anchorage, Dubai, for the past 22 months.

In a tweet from Dharma's captain, Ashwani Kumar Kataria, asked for help, writing, “Seven Indian seafarers abandoned by Alco Shipping Services LLC Dubia on MT Dharma from last 30 months. Still no salary, no signoff,” adding that their condition was critical.

Speaking to Fairplay sister title Safety at Sea, Ashwani said that he joined Alco Shipping in July 2015 and that all crew on the vessel signed a 12-month contract. “My 30th month has finished already, and my chief and other five crew have completed 24 months, salary pending,” he said. “My parents are also in too much tension. They call me every day but I don’t give any response as I have no news.” He explained that the company told him to bring the vessel inside the port and they would provide “signoff and salary” within one month “but three months running, still no signoff and no salary”. Ashwani added that he had been in contact with the Indian consulate over the past 10 months but received no update, and had no response from the Indian foreign minister.

Jas Uppal, lawyer and founder of British-registered charity and human rights NGO Justice Upheld, has been in direct contact with the crew, who told her the ship was in “terrible condition, and they were having to cook food on deck with open fire”. A previous statement made by the Dharma captain to Justice Upheld noted holes on the ship’s side, poor crew health, and that the engine was not working. “The local embassy is waiting for Alco Shipping to respond and co-operate, but it is not [seen as] a priority,” added Uppal.

Writing about the Dharma crew when the case first came to light in October 2017, charity Human Rights at Sea said that despite the IMO’s clarifications that “market forces” take the joint IMO/ILO database on reported incidents of abandoned seafarers into account for vetting ships, “Human Rights at Sea remains very concerned at the current lack of co-ordinated and effective international response to this pernicious issue, in terms of speedy solutions for crew repatriation that are agreed and effectively able to be implemented at state level.”

Alco Shipping was involved with a number of abandonment cases in 2017, including the seven-strong crew of Sharjah Moon, who were left stranded in the UAE for nearly a year, and had not been paid their salaries for more than six months. The crew has since been repatriated.

Uppal said that Alco Shipping “gets away scot-free each time. There is nothing ever done. They are never chastised or penalised by the shipping industry”. She added that European companies that deal with Alco Shipping should “put pressure” on them to stop such practices and call for penalties. SAS contacted the owners of Alco Shipping but had received no response at the time of writing.

As of 19 January 2018, there have been 316 abandonment incidents affecting 4,020 seafarers, according to the ILO database. Of those incidents, 154 cases were resolved, 60 cases were disputed, and 50 cases were inactive status. There are still 52 unresolved cases. In 2017, the cases reported increased drastically. From 2011 to 2016 years, the number of cases ranged from 12 to 19 annually. In 2017, the number rose to 57. Of those, 20 cases have now been resolved.

The IMO told SAS that it is continuing to focus its efforts on improving the situation, with particular diplomatic effort by the Secretariat and the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim. “The IMO Legal Committee is expected to review the situation and receive an update from IMO and ILO secretariats, when it meets for its 105th session, 23-25 April 2018. This will provide an opportunity for the issue of abandonment to be raised at the level of an IMO Committee, which is attended by representatives from Member States as well as relevant international NGOS in consultative status representing the shipping industry and seafarers.”

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