Indebted Indian cruise company shuts operations, abandons crew

Bombay High Court. Credit: TopPhotoImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Sixty crew members stranded aboard Indian cruise liner Karnika have been pushed into a more perilous situation after indebted owner Jalesh Cruises put out a notice to shut operations amid mounting unpaid wages claims and litigation.

The seafarers’ ordeal began in late March when various creditors obtained a warrant for the arrest of the vessel from the Bombay High Court through an admiralty suit. The ship has been anchored at Mumbai port since then, with the abandoned crew claiming they had also not been paid.

The company stated that the widespread adverse economic impact of COVID-19 has created an untenable, uncertain environment for the cruise industry, leaving little hope for a revival of its business activity.

“Amidst the ongoing pandemic, [the] owners of Karnika state that they are not in a position to start the operation as the ports in India have not given the date by which cruise ships can start their operations,” the company said in a statement. “Owners have also appealed to the High Court and the port trust for assistance to provide fuel, power, and basic supplies to the 60 crew members that are on the ship. However, they have yet to receive an update on their appeal from the High Court along with the port trust. Unfortunately, due to this delay, the crew members on the ship are living in poor conditions with no fuel, power, etc.”

However, the shipowner has committed to resolving the seafarers’ plight and their safe sign-off through accelerated interventions.

“We would like to reassure the crew and their families that we have not forgotten about them, hence, [we] have put the right wheels in motion. We’ve asked for urgent [help] with the relevant authorities and are waiting for their feedback. In addition, we assure our crew members that they will receive their salaries as soon as the funds are received. Main priority is to reunite the crew with their families,” said a company statement.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Shipping, the country’s maritime administrator, has reportedly sought an immediate report regarding the owner’s failure to pay wages to the abandoned crew and their increasing concerns over essential supplies on the vessel.

Acquired in early 2019, the Bahamas-flagged Karnika – featuring a deck capacity of 2,014 passengers and 621 crew members – was the first cruise venture attempt by Jalesh Cruises Mauritius, a company majority owned by Subhash Chandra, chairman of the Essel Group, and his family. Chandra, a media baron, wanted to earn a space in the country’s tourism industry as part of a diversification strategy beyond his niche interests.

Karnika had its debut voyage from Mumbai in April 2019.