Seamen stuck in vessel off Cape coast since March

2015-04-29 09:32
(Picture: Netwerk24)

(Picture: Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - “I will not keep quiet. I have been sailing for 18 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. Prisoners are treated better than us.”

Otto Lasrado, 45, from Goa in India is furious about the fact that he and his 20 fellow crewmen have been stuck just off Three Anchor Bay in Cape Town since March 17 on the vessel Agatis. They can see the city from their bulk carrier, but can’t go anywhere.

The vessel was on its way from Myanmar to Ivory Coast with a cargo of bulk-packed rice when it was diverted to Cape Town without warning.

“About six minutes after arriving here, the ship was arrested,” explains Lasrado, the chief chef on board.

The owners of the vessel, Indonesian company Meranti Bahari PT, ran into financial difficulties and did not pay service providers. The shipping agent, Aquarius Maritime PTE Limited from Singapore, and a service provider in the UAE thus had the vessel arrested in an effort to get some of their money.

Aquarius also failed to pay the crew for months, and now they are the pawns in the latest maritime drama in Cape Town.

“We signed on to the vessel in November 2014. Our December salaries were late and I started the fight, but all I got were empty promises,” said Lasrado. “Our January salaries were late again.”

And that was also the last time they got paid.

Conditions on board

They haven’t received a cent since, and the situation at home and on board gets worse by the day.

“We haven’t had water to do laundry in a month, our drinking water is unhygienic and there isn’t enough water to flush the toilets. We have two months’ garbage on board and it stinks terribly.”

Lasrado does his best to keep the crew fed with the meagre rations he has left.

They realised they were in deep trouble and contacted the International Transport Federation (ITF), but when the captain would not let the ITF’s local man Cassiem Augustus on board, he had to go to court with maritime lawyer Alan Goldberg from Rose Street Attorneys to get an order.

“Conditions on board are horrible,” Goldberg said after his last visit to the crew.

He remains hopeful that the crew will get at least a portion of their salaries and can go home soon.

He explained that the only way they could go home right now would be if they rented a boat to take them into the harbour, and then organise and pay for their transportation back to India.

Because they haven’t been paid, none of the men can do that.

“And the Agatis can’t enter the harbour itself because there is obviously nobody who will take responsibility for berthing and other fees,” Goldberg said.

“Our families are suffering,” said Lasrado. “We chose this job to enable us to take proper care of our families and give our kids the best. Who will look after them now?”

While the legal process runs its course, all they can do is wait.

Neither Meranti PT nor Aquarius Maritime PTE Limited responded to requests for comment.

Similar incidents

2012-2014: The E Whale was stuck just off Blouberg after the giant dual-purpose cargo vessel was arrested due to its owner’s debt. The crew also was not paid until Augustus and Goldberg took up their case.

2013: 75 Indonesian fishermen were left stranded in Cape Town when the owners of the seven vessels they arrived on ran into trouble with the law and their creditors.  

2014-2015: Six crewmen were stuck in Cape Town for almost a year when their vessel was confiscated by fisheries and the company left the country without paying them or buying them tickets to get home.

Read more on:    cape town  |  maritime

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