Crew of oil tanker beached off UAE to go home after four years at sea

By Karen McVeigh

The crew of an oil tanker who have not set foot on dry land for nearly four years after being abandoned on board their ship, which later ran aground off the United Arab Emirates, are finally going home to see their families.

The seafarers, who said they experienced “living hell” on board the 5,000-ton MT Iba after the tanker’s owner hit financial problems and stopped paying salaries almost three years ago, have been given a settlement for wages owed to them. They hope to be repatriated in March.

The five-man crew had a brief and emotional trip to dry land to meet with representatives of Alco Shipping, the vessel’s owner, on the beach at Umm Al Quwain, on Monday. Two cheques from a new buyer, Shark Power Marine Services, were handed over to the crew via the Mission to Seafarers charity, which has been negotiating on their behalf. They agreed to accept $165,000 (£119,000) in unpaid wages, around 65% to 70% of the wages they were owed.

'Hell': crew of tanker grounded off UAE speak before end of four years stranded at sea – video
'Hell': crew of tanker grounded off UAE speak before end of four years stranded at sea – video

Work is under way to assess the damage to the oil tanker when it broke anchor and drifted from the busy port, before beaching two and a half weeks ago.

Nay Win, the 53-year-old chief engineer, who is from Myanmar, said: “The buyer has promised us we will get home and I hope I will get home after 5 March. My family are really happy.”

Win and Riasat Ali, a 52-year-old second engineer from Pakistan, have been on board since July 2017. Monchand Sheikh, 26, a cook from India, joined in late 2018, while Vinay Kumar, 31, another second engineer, and Nirmal Singh-Bora, 22, both from India, joined in late 2019.

The Rev Andy Bowerman, Mission to Seafarers regional director in the Middle East and south Asia, said: “Hopefully, all being well, 15 days from now, they will be at the port of Dubai and ready to go home.”

It was an emotional meeting at the beach, Bowerman said, marking the first time some of the seafarers had been ashore in almost four years.

“The crew came off and swam to the shore. Nay Win was in tears. He was off the boat, there was a cheque in my hands. But unfortunately they could not just step down and go home.”

The seafarers have agreed to stay on to do essential work on the ship before it is towed to Dubai, where they will wait 15 days for legal work on the sale of the vessel to be completed.

They will then be paid the other half of the money they are owed, and repatriated.

A spokesperson for the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said the authorities were helping the seafarers renew passports via their embassies, so they could be quickly repatriated. The crew will require a PCR Covid-19 test, and will be allowed to fly if the test is negative; otherwise, arrangements will be made for quarantine.

Asked why the UAE is the worst country for seafarer abandonment, according to a database run by the International Maritime Organization, the spokesperson said that it was a busy maritime hub, with 20 active ports, and that more traffic led to more cases. New legislation that would allow the port to arrest an abandoned ship and auction it without the involvement of the courts was not yet in place.

Mohamed Arrachedi, Arab world and Iran network coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said the long-running case of the Iba was a “symptom that something very wrong exists and has to change”.

“The seafarers are the workforce that keeps ships at sea. Their rights, wellbeing, wages, conditions and welfare must be at the centre of priorities.”