Crew abandoned in UAE waters speaks out

UAE, Abu Dhabi. (Credit: Olaf Schmidt)

The crew of Sharjah Moon have spoken out about being left stranded in United Arab Emirates waters since July 2016.

On 9 May 2017, the crew of Sharjah Moon docked without permission in Hamriyah Port to contact the Indian consulate in Dubai about what they claimed were dangerous conditions on board. Some of the crew said they had been denied salaries for more than 16 months and had been sending requests to sign off weekly for more than six months.

On board are six Indian nationals and one Sri Lankan, who, it is alleged, have been repeatedly denied access to fresh food and water or contact with their families. Health problems on board and belated news of family deaths is said to have damaged the psychological health of the crew and resulted in potential suicide attempts.

In an investigative report and case study from independent advocacy group Human Rights at Sea, released on 9 June, the crew spoke out about the situation and the conditions of the ship.

Chief engineer and Sri Lankan national Harendra Singh said owners Alco Shipping Company had ignored his request for compassionate leave when his father passed away in March 2017 and his daughter was taken ill. Because he has received no pay since August 2016, he explained that his house and land, which is under a mortgage, has been given final notice.

David Hammond, chief executive of Human Rights at Sea, said, “We hope our case study will raise awareness of the case and keep the issue alive. Often these issues seem to be swept under the carpet but we want to make it public and go deeper to look at the effect it has on seafarers.”

Justice Upheld, a British-registered charity and human rights NGO founded by lawyer Jas Uppal, was contacted by the best friend of Sharjah Moon’s captain, Jai Prakash Bhadri, in June. Uppal then registered the crew’s case with India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Sri Lankan authorities.

Bhadri later confirmed to Uppal that the Indian minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, had visited the vessel and said he was told “our issue will soon be resolved”.

However, Uppal told SAS she was sceptical that the Indian government would resolve the case speedily or be able to force the shipowner to comply over payment of wages.

According to Uppal, the shipowner, a Pakistani national, is alleged to have said to the crew that the situation was revenge for India carrying out “surgical strikes” on militants in late September across the de facto border in disputed Kashmir.

“It’s as if the crew are all dispensable. They shouldn’t be treated like this for what has been happening between the states,” said Uppal. “The UAE is complicit and should be questioning why this is going on and investigating it as a human rights violation.”

In May 2016 the shipowner changed Sharjah Moon’s flag from the UAE to Zanzibar.

Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News reported that crew on another three Alco-owned ships were suffering similar conditions.

The Indian consul general in Dubai, the ship’s owner, and the company had, at the time of writing, not responded to a request for comment from SAS.