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.

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21 June 2019

'I told my daughter I'd be home': long ordeal ends for crew stranded at sea

Author: Karen McVeigh, The Guardian

After 18 months stranded on a cargo vessel miles off the coast of the United Arab Emirates... Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan’s ordeal is finally over... the captain and crew were abandoned by the vessel owner, Elite Way Marine Services, unable to leave the ship fearing the loss of their claim to thousands of dollars in unpaid wages... Ayyappan... said he had now been paid 80% of the $84,000 (£66,000) salary owed to him... Rajib Ali, a cook from India, and Ibrahim Adam Iazim, chief officer from Sudan, were also repatriated. Other members of the crew, who accepted 40-60% of their owed salaries, left the ship in April...

There were days when a lack of fuel left the vessel in darkness in the busy shipping lane, endangering the crew and other ships... 36 sailors in at least seven vessels were abandoned by Elite Way Marine Services, according to the Federal Transport Authority (FTA) in the UAE. The case was first highlighted by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)... In February, Mission to Seafarers and the FTA took legal action against the vessel’s owner over the unpaid salaries. The first ship was arrested under maritime law in April, followed by other vessels, including the Azraqmoiah, which was sold to pay the seafarers’ salaries. The FTA has banned the company from operating in UAE waters.

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12 June 2019

Indian cook stranded at sea off UAE for 38 months to fly home

Author: Sajila Saseendran, Gulf News

Rajib Ali, 39, had spent 38 months since April 9, 2016 on board three vessels of Elite Way Marine Services which abandoned a total of eight ships with 40 seafarers in the past couple of years. He was employed on board two other vessels of the same company before he was moved to Azraqmoiah... "I had paid Rs. 80,000 to an agent to get this job with $750 salary. In all these years, I stopped working and took rest for only four days when I got the news about my father’s death. But, after all the negotiations, I am getting only 24 months’ pending salary" [said Ali].

Captain Ayyappan... is losing $25,000 in unpaid wages... he said: “We went through a very bad phase. Our company had totally abandoned us, we didn’t have food, water or even medicines... We are extremely thankful to the FTA, especially Captain Abdullah Al Hayyas, director of maritime transport at the FTA, who took legal action against the company by banning its commercial operations and arresting the ships through the legal firm Fichte and Co.” He also thanked the Indian Consulate for keeping the crew alive with supply of provisions, freshwater, medicines and mobile chargers.

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12 April 2019

Abandoned at sea: the crews cast adrift without food, fuel or pay

Author: Karen McVeigh, The Guardian

The [crew of the Azraqmoiah, an Elite Way Marine Services-owned vessel] have been stranded, six nautical miles off Ajman port, with no supplies, no wages, no fuel and scant means of communication, for 18 months... [living on] rice and dahl provided by charities and the Indian consulate... they are owed $260,600 (£199,300) in wages, they say, as well as their airfare home... [Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan] is now taking legal action against the ship owner... In the UAE, his is one of several abandoned ships owned by the same company, with 36 crew on board, all in the same desperate situation. Elite Way Marine Services says the company had “financial problems” but planned to pay the seafarers soon...

The FTA [UAE's Federal Transport Authority] has now taken legal action against Elite Way Marine Services, to arrest Swaminathan’s vessel, which is UAE-flagged. It has already arrested one of the company’s other vessels in the Gulf. Once the ship has been arrested, the seafarers can be repatriated by the Indian consulate...

Elite Way has now promised to sell two ships, a tug and a supply vessel, to pay the wages it owes the seafarers. When asked by the Guardian... Captain Ibrahim Gafar, Elite Way’s operations manager, would only say his company ran into financial difficulties. He says he has so far refused to sell any of his vessels to release money to pay their wages because he would not get a good price, but now has a buyer for one while another is being sold for scrap. He will pay the seafarers after he gets the cash from the sales, which he expects to happen by the end of next week.

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10 December 2018

HRAS: 30 seafarers stranded in the UAE without pay for over a year, suffering from poor health

Author: Human Rights at Sea

"HRAS Case Study: Seafarers' Abdonment in the UAE", December 2018

Human Rights at Sea [HRAS] has been made aware of a series of human rights and labour abusive practices against seafarers on board three vessels in the UAE belonging to the ship-owner company Elite Way Marine Services EST, incorporated in Dubai. About thirty... seafarers contacted... HRAS to report their situation... [T]he seafarers... suffer from physical and mental health conditions and are owed more than a year's salary each... Sanitary conditions are absent from all three vessels. There are no sufficient suppliers of food and fresh water and no medical assistance. The crew has reported that they have also been deprived of their travel and identificatiojn documents, which were confiscated by the UAE authorities... [T]he Federal Transport Authority (FTA) in UAE has taken legal action and banned Elite Way Marine Services EST... on the grounds of seafarers abandonment. Seafarers contend that the owner and management are telling the FTA that they will sell the vessels and then resolve the issue soon. Yet so far there has been no action...

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