Nearly 40 crew members (of which more than 30 are Indian nationals) have been abandoned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Dubai-based Elite Way Marine Services.
Given network issues, poor provisions and extremely limited fresh water supplies, lack of pay, and forced energy conservation – and with no end to the issue in sight – the physical and mental health of these seafarers are at a critical stage.
With their documents held by the UAE Coast Guard, crew members told SAS they felt held hostage on board the ships and were being used as a means by which Elite Way can secure knowledge of the state of the vessel. For example, while Elite Way’s master marine operations manager, captain Gafar Gorish, refused communication with all abandoned crew members for over six months, he contacted captain Jagnik Mukerjee of the chemical tanker Abdulrazaq immediately for a vessel update when another vessel collided with theirs.
Crew told SAS this confirmed their concerns of modern slavery, as their unpaid labour and forced presence is used to secure the vessels.
One among many, captain Ayappan Swaminathan of cargo ship Azraqmoiah stated in December that despite being contracted to work for eight months, he has been on board for 23 months, 15 months of which have been without pay, while the cook, Rajib Ali, was 20 months over the assigned time frame of his contract at the time of writing. Neither of them have been able to return home to their families, with Swaminathan noting the incredible anxiety and depression this distance and lack of resolution has caused.
Notably, despite several crew members lodging complaints with the FTA, the ITF, MEA, the Consulate General of India in the UAE, little has happened to resolve the situation. Vikash Mishra of deck cargo ship Tamim Aldar noted that banning Elite Way has done nothing for their condition, as no direct relief has been offered to the abandoned seafarers. Mukerjee added that their contact person at the FTA, captain Abdulla, no longer responded to their calls for assistance, ignoring them in a manner similar to Elite Way’s Gafar.
While charities such as Mission to Seafarers and Justice Upheld are assisting, crew members point to how punitive the existing system is to abandoned seafarers rather than the companies themselves. As Swaminathan noted, their detention and abandonment has done nothing to penalise the company in any lasting manner; Elite Way currently continues to operate and recruit Indian seafarers through RPSL agents, the latter of whom he feels are as culpable in the matter as the former.