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Coronavirus | 19 sailors on oil tanker float in misery off Mumbai

Lockdown delays auction of ship under arrest for non-payment of debt

With food, water and diesel likely to run out in the next two days, 19 sailors onboard an oil tanker off Mumbai are an anxious lot. Their ship has been under arrest for the past three months after the owner has failed to clear its debt owed to the erstwhile UTI Capital Private Limited and an auction scheduled last month couldn’t conclude due to the lockdown.

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“The Bombay High Court has asked the agency which has arrested the ship to provide us essentials through our company, Mercator Limited. But we can’t be certain until the supplies arrive onboard,” says Captain Iftikhar Modak, Master of MT Prem Mala. Last week, he sent an SOS to various stakeholders including the Sheriff of Mumbai, the Directorate General of Shipping, the shipping company and Axis Trustee Services Limited, requesting for supplies yet there is no clarity on who will provide them.

On January 31, the Bombay High Court granted a plea by Axis Trustee Services Limited (ATSL), a beneficiary of the Axis Bank, for issuing an arrest warrant against MT Prem Mala. The owner of the ship owed UTI through ATSL ₹196 crore. On March 3, the Bombay High Court directed the Sheriff of Mumbai to conduct an auction sale. The bids were to be submitted on March 24 and an auction purchaser declared by the court two days later. But these were left incomplete after the lockdown was announced.

“In April, UTI paid for the essential supply on humanitarian grounds though it is not obliged to do so. On Monday, we approached the court to ask that it must either direct somebody to pay for the essentials or allow for the sale of the ship or guarantee that whoever pays for these supplies will get paid on priority after the sale. The court, however, thought that there was no urgency in this matter and effectively passed no order. It is a large amount of money and therefore everyone is passing the buck and forwarding e-mails,” Ashwin Shanker, lawyer for ATSL told The Hindu. The water, food and diesel supply for a month cost ₹35 lakh.

“We are obeying government regulations which require a minimum of 17 crew members to be mandatorily on ship to ensure its safety. But if these supplies don’t reach us on time, we will be forced to abandon the ship. The morale onboard is very low as we have not been paid our salaries since January and our insurance has also expired. We have no idea when we will be able to return home or send money to our families. We have no contact with our owners, who have simply abandoned us. I was assigned duty for two months and my four-month long contract expired last week, but the shipowner says he can’t even send a boat to allow us to leave the ship because there are dues owed to them too,” says Chief Officer Ankit Maurya.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 5:35:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-19-sailors-on-oil-tanker-float-in-misery-off-mumbai/article31456774.ece

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