Indian captain and crew in distress call to ITF | Sunday Observer

Indian captain and crew in distress call to ITF

26 March, 2023

An Indian ship captain and his five-member crew have been stranded in Sri Lanka for the past four years and unable to leave owing to lingering legal issues between the vessel’s owner and the local authorities.

The 71-year-old captain-Mushtaq Ahmed Kapade in a complaint to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has said that he and his remaining crew are experiencing untold hardships and forced to depend on meagre handouts from charitable organisations for survival while living on the vessel that is currently docked inside the Colombo Port.

A spokesman for the ITF told the Sunday Observer that the Indian-flagged cargo vessel-M.V. Sai Arambh with a 19-member crew arrived at the Colombo Port in late 2019 and was subsequently detained on a court order after the crew complained on non-payment of wages among other issues.

Earlier 15 crew members left the country for India but the captain and the remaining crew cannot abandon the vessel according to maritime laws and legal requirements, he said.

He said the ITF along with the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka and the Mission to Seamen had been providing relief to the crew for nearly four years.

He said the vessel’s owner-SPS Marin based in Mumbai had not only refused to pay the wages of the crew but was also refusing to cooperate which has resulted in the delay to solve the matter over these years.

He also warned that the vessel was fast deteriorating and could even take in water and probably go down if the matter is not solved at the earliest.

The ITF is an international trade union packing a membership of some 20 million men and women in 153 countries. It also maintains an office in Colombo.

Director General Merchant Shipping Ajith Wijesinghe said the captain and crew cannot be allowed to leave the vessel until there is a replacement and the authorities are not in a position to hire Seafarers owing to the lack of funds while shipping companies are not prepared to offer crew on a credit basis.

“As a last resort we approached the Sri Lankan navy for a suitable crew but there has been no response as yet.

On the other hand the Commercial High Court has also been informed on the developing situation regarding the MV Sai Arambh. Our biggest fear is that the vessel could even sink at any time and this would be disastrous since salvaging the wreck will be the responsibility of the local authorities at a huge cost and at present we do not have sufficient funds for such an operation.

Not only that, it would also obstruct the shipping lanes to and from the port resulting in loss of vital revenue to the country”, Wijesinghe said.

He said the vessel had already been auctioned some two months ago through a court order but the local bidder has so far failed to deposit the money.