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UAE: Case of abandoned ship, Azraqmoiah, comes to close after crew repatriated after two years

In June 2019, the final crew members of the Azraqmoiah were repatriated after being stranded on the ship, moored off an Ajman port, for 18 months. 

The Azraqmoiah was one of several boats owned by Elite Way Marine Services and abandoned off the UAE coast. Ship abandonment is a common problem in the UAE where sailors are stranded on board boats without pay, with dwindling resources and in unsafe conditions. Although workers have a right to wages paid through the sale of a vessel, they lose that rights if they leave the ship, leading ship owners’ to make “calculated decisions” not to pay workers, said Jan Engel de Boer, senior legal officer at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). In total the crew of the Azraqmoiah reported overdue wages of $260,000.

Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan's contract to ship building materials beween Iraq and UAE expired in October 2017, whereupon the owners abandoned the crew. In February 2019 the UAE Federal Transport Authority and Mission to Seafarers took action against Elite Way Marine Services and arrested the vessel; Elite Way Marine Services had promised to pay outstanding salaries to the ten searfarers onboard the Azraqmoiah as well as other ships, by selling vessels. Consequently most crew members left the ship in April 2019, accepting 40-60% of their owed salaries. Captain Ayyappan, Rajib Ali, a cook from India, and Ibrahim Adam Iazim, chief officer from Sudan, were finally repatriated in June 2019. Captain Ayyappan said he had been paid 80% of the wages owing to him.

These cases serve to highlight the UAE’s reputation as amongst "the worst culprits" location-wise for abandoning seafarers, according to Jan Engel de Boer, senior legal officer at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Cases of ship abandonment in the Gulf have increased dramatically in the past two years and have been compared to modern slavery by the IMO and rights groups. Further, although a Maritime Labour Convention amendment allows abandoned seafarers to contact ships’ insurers after two months of overdue wages with a guarantee of four months’ pay, the UAE has yet to sign up to the Convention.