Indian envoy to UAE says the embassy has taken up the issue with the ship’s agents in Emirates and its managers in Singapore

On the phone, Smigin Subrahmanian, third engineer of the reportedly abandoned Aframax tanker Iron Monger 3 anchored at Khor Fakkan along the Gulf of Oman for over two years, sounds distressed.

He joined the vessel for six months on January 17 but has not drawn a single penny by way of wages ever since. “We are badly off, having been made to starve as well two weeks ago when supplies were cut off. But for the intervention of the Indian consulate on our cry for help, we would have been dead now,” says the man from Thiruvananthapuram, who is among the 10 Indians and two Pakistanis facing ignominy at the hands of the ship’s Singapore-based manager, Nos Shipmanagement, and owner, Taiwanese shipping major TMT.

TMT’s owner, Nobu Su, has sought bankruptcy protection in a U.S. court.

Mr. Subrahmanian was apparently told at the time of recruitment that the ship was being paid off and would be on its last voyage before being scrapped.

“We slogged all this while without pay and realised later that none of the eight crewmembers who got changed over some two months ago were paid either. The last straw, however, was when they denied us food and drinkable water,” he said.

His father P.K. Subrahmanian, who petitioned Union Minister Shashi Tharoor and the Director-General of Shipping requesting intervention, is upset with the officials of Nos Shipmanagement — which contracted his son for the job — for cold-shouldering the sailors’ call for help.

“They said a month’s salary would be paid if he disembarks and the remaining would be paid later. But how can we trust them as they never kept their word?” he asks. The family is now thinking of postponing Mr. Smigin Subrahmanian’s wedding from July to August.

Ramesh Gopi, brother-in-law of Sreejith S. Kumar, another sailor on board the vessel, is running from pillar to post seeking justice for the stranded sailors.

M.K. Lokesh, India’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, told The Hindu over the phone that the embassy had taken up the issue with the ship’s agents in the Emirates and its managers in Singapore. “They said they contacted the owner, who has agreed to pay a month’s pay in two week’s time. In the meantime, we are ensuring bunkering and food supply to the sailors and are in constant touch with them,” he said.

C. Rethindaas, Deputy Director-General of Shipping in-charge of crew branch, said the agency would take appropriate action, including taking up the issue with the ship’s agents, after examining if the sailors were registered with it.

Captain Subodh K. Tiwari of Yesship Marine Transport, the recruiting arm of Nos, said part payment of crew salaries would be done soon.

With nearly half of its 17-ship fleet detained at various ports on account of non-payment of levies, loans and duties, TMT — formerly Taiwan Marine Transport, which was renamed Today Meets Tomorrow in 2007 — has been in dire financial straits for two years now. A Whale, another tanker owned by the same company under Liberian flag, has been stranded with Indian crew onboard at the port of Suez for five months now. After news broke of the plight of the sailors aboard, the Indian Embassy in Cairo intervened to provide relief to the Indian crew. The London-based Sailors’ Society, too, extended help and appealed to the Liberian Registry to resolve the crisis. The Liberian Registry is now learnt to have issued an ultimatum to TMT asking it to pay outstanding wages before July 4 and to supply fuel without fail.

Scott R. Bergeron, Chief Executive Officer of the Registry, told The Hindu in a communication that the agency was monitoring the situation continually and was in regular contact with the crew, owner and ship manager. “The owner and manager have made regular assurances with regard to the welfare of the crew, and Liberia, as the flag state, stands ready to assert its authority in the interests of the crew members, if necessary.  If the situation is not resolved to our satisfaction within the next few days, the Liberian Registry will take the necessary steps in accordance with its obligations,” Mr. Bergeron said.

According to a report on www.marinelog.com, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston last week asked banks in Taiwan to allow TMT to use cash to pay for costs of crewing and fuelling.

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