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Health of 18 crew members of Indian merchant ship detained in Fujairah port in UAE deteriorates fast

Chennai: The health of the 18 crew members of the Indian merchant ship Maharshi Vamadeva, detained at the Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates since last June, is deteriorating fast with rapid weight loss, high stress and multiple ailments, says the captain of the ship.

Maharshi Vamadeva, a gas carrier, was detained by Fujairah port authorities for alleged non-payment of dues by ship owner Varun Global, a company under liquidation due to bankruptcy. The crew members have limited access to essentials like food and water and have not been paid their full wages, master of the vessel Captain Kumar Krishna told PTI over mail and WhatsApp from Fujairah.

The present batch, managed by Gurgaon-based Darya Shipping Agency, joined the vessel in February 2018 after the initial crew was evacuated following protests, he said. Two days ago, Electrical Officer Jitendra Kumar Pandey was evacuated on medical grounds after severe chest pain on 4 June. The 44-year-old from Ratsar Ballia in Uttar Pradesh was admitted to the Fujairah Port Medical Centre.

File image of ship on UAE sea. Reuters

File image of ship on UAE waters. Reuters

The medical report, a copy of which is available with PTI, says, "On 5-6-2018: He complains of left-sided chest pain with increase in severity since today morning. Repeat ECG shows new changes suggestive of Ischemia. He is started on antiplatelet, IV heparin, statin and other supportive care."

Krishna is worried for the other 18 crew members, all Indian nationals, left behind. "The physical condition of the crew members is worsening day by day. We are not being paid salaries. Multiple requests to the authorities have not fetched any result so far,"  Krishna said.

Family members and others have written to various authorities, including the Directorate General of Shipping, the Indian embassy in UAE and the External Affairs Ministry, seeking their intervention. According to a mail sent to Indian and UAE authorities, one of the men has been showing signs of "mental disarray", sleeping during anchor watch, acting aloof and not responding to orders. "It's up to all authorities to decide on his medical care, evacuation etc. before he makes further damage to himself. And this is just another case, managing 18 human lives day by day is becoming a daunting task for me. Please do something before we get mad," the captain has requested in the letter.

According to Darya Shipping Agency CEO Captain Rajesh Deshwal, some of them have been suffering from ailments like chicken pox and there have also been reports of alarming weight loss. "This can cause permanent disability and mental trauma to them and their families," he told PTI over the phone.

The crew has not received salaries for the past five months, Deshwal disclosed, claiming that he had been paying them in his individual capacity. The crew draws salaries ranging from Rs 60,000 to Rs 8 lakh per month, he said, adding that he might not be able to continue it further.

The company, Deshwal said, was made to sign a contract by the Insolvency Resolution Partner (IRP), appointed by the National Company Law Tribunal to take over the insolvent company on behalf of the bank and manage all activities of the company.

"They asked us to take over a vessel, owned by State Bank of India which was the lead mortgagee bank for the vessel. We said we cannot unless we are paid. So SBI called us, signed a contract and told us they will make regular payments. They made an initial remittance of around Rs 1 crore too. Once the crew was there, they stopped payment and said they wouldn't make any payment until the vessel is sold," he alleged. SBI did not respond to an email sent for comments.

Varun Global, the primary owner of the ship, also could not be reached over phone or email. Other than concerns over the crew's deteriorating health, Krishna has flagged issues related to the vessel itself.

"The vessel is a threat to marine traffic at congested anchorage of Fujairah. The vessel is hazardous due to LPG vapours in the tank. Due to insufficient spares, fire alarm sensors are having various fault alarms. The ship insurance certificates including the Wreck Removal certificate have expired. If someone can understand the gravity of the situation please take decisions," he said in a mail dated 30 May to various authorities, including the Ministries of External Affairs and Shipping.

According to Deshwal, the tankers are filled with gas and it will be like a bomb in case of a fire. "If there is bad weather and the ship starts drifting towards the shore, the crew won't have control. They cannot start the engines because there is no fuel or power," he said, adding that the crew members could get arrested for trying to leave the ship and could lose claim over their salary for "abandoning ship".

The first crew managed by Fleet Management Ltd, too, faced similar problems with no food, water, fuel and salary, Krishna said. "They protested from June 2017 to February 2018, after which our crew managed by Darya Shipping reluctantly agreed to join the ship," he added.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2018 14:32 PM

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