A tragic story of Indian crew who have been abandoned in Sri Lanka for 32 months, suffering from distress and other adverse conditions.

There are six remaining crew onboard the MV SAI ARAMBH. The boat has been abandoned for over 32 months, with limited support and no access to supplies that have been on the ship for this long. Tragically, the cook drowned when he accidentally fell onto the shore while trying to negotiate the boat’s badly damaged gangway.

The owner of the ship contests the authenticity of the video and crewmen’s story.

The cargo ship is being repaired for below waterline leaks that were detected by the UK-based NGO, Justice Upheld. The unseaworthy boat remains alongside and is in need of running repairs that are in progress, with no personal protection equipment, holes in deck plates and exterior stairs and gangways in poor condition. Living, cooking, and sanitary conditions are also appalling.

A Sri Lankan High Court order for the arrest of the vessel was issued on January 30, 2020, which then led to a warrant being executed by the crew on January 29, 2020. The ship’s crew alleged damages for unpaid wages of R 7,182,766.90 (USD 90,587.98) and said they continued to accrue while they were in custody.

The vessel is listed on the ILO database No. 00553 with a court event for 3 December 2021 following the series of delay in payments due to the pandemic and current state of unrest in the country. The latest payment information from ILO is $530,000 pending.

The Mission to Seafarers has been resupplying the crew, and an upcoming public auction is scheduled for 8 April. The latest reported court date was set for 8 August, but has been postponed due to the owner’s appeal with the High Court. Against the current backdrop of social unrest, ITF has been supporting in-country efforts against this dispute.

Death of crew member

On March 29th 2022, a sailor was climbing down the badly corroded gangway ladder to go ashore after spending the last two years onboard during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. He fell and died into the harbor but did not resurface for 15 minutes. When the body floated to the surface, he was dead.

Personal loans for repatriation.

Nine crew members were repatriated for unknown reasons in April 2021. They had to take out loans and defer payment of the remainder of wages from December 2019 so they could return home to India. HRAS understands that five family members and the captain had to wait on legal relief and wages that are still owed.

Crew positions

Remaining crew members say they are aware of their predicament and the issues with the ship, but it’s old and unlivable.

“The floor plates are so corroded that there are holes through the deck, and the galley has water leaking. The engine room skylight is leaking water and there’s a chance the hold catches are corroded.”

We have to be careful when walking around the ship, because we don’t know if our foot will go right through the deck.

“The effect of the pandemic on our families has been devastating. Everybody suffered and we had to borrow money to support them. We often do not have enough money to recharge our phones.”

The Master told the inspector that authorities have not been communicating with him directly and he has asserted that the Port State Control doesn’t understand the severity of the situation on board.

“Get us out of this ship as soon as possible!” the Master said to HRAS.

Owner’s position.

This week, HRAS spoke to captain Prafula Ranjan, co-owner of the ship. He denies that there was ever any dispute. He has been informed that the matter is in court’s hands, so he cannot make a decision yet.

He told the HRAS:

“The crew arrested the vessel. We’ve repeatedly requested that they leave it so we can sell it.”

“The crew have neglected the ship and neglected their own accommodation, it’s just filthy.”

I just got back from Colombo and there’s some new information that I need to share with the judge.

“Temporary repairs were completed on the ship’s hull in June to seal all leaks below the waterline. All leaks were found to be holding.”

Ranjan says, “I am a human being also. I have mortgaged my house, and I’m on the ropes right now. My house is gone, and my life is gone.”

“We can’t say that we’ve abandoned her now, and it’s entirely the crew’s fault. We sent buyers to the ship in May of 2022, but they refused them entry.”

Captain Ranjan claimed that the crew chased five people off the ship with steel rods and sometimes even with knives. The people said they were “hostile”.

The Director General of Shipping refused to give him access to the container ship.

The Master responded to the allegations fairly, whereupon HRAS informed the owner that they disagreed.

“I don’t accept any of the allegations. The conditions on board this 28-year-old ship are terrible. We look after our passengers’ accommodation.”

“No one has beaten anybody. He’s lying.”

“We don’t need to touch anyone. We fight for our wages.”

HRAS comment

This is just one of many cases that were registered on the ILO Abandonment Database. However, it wasn’t until we looked at their living conditions that we realized how extreme the human rights violations were. This is unacceptable.

Even if you had a good reason for not paying workers, keeping wages owed to those who risked their lives and livelihoods, purposefully putting families at financial risk and creating future debt bondage, is absolutely inexcusable.

Crew abandonment is a global issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The Indian flag state and national authorities should prioritize the lives, wellbeing, and salaries of these crew. Additionally, vessel owners and agents should address the health and safety issues onboard fairly by acknowledging the country’s difficult social conditions at the time of writing.