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Off to Andamans after 4 days

Calcutta, Dec. 23: After four days in the harbour, 1,200 tourists finally set sail for the Andamans tonight on board MV Nicobar.

A seamen’s agitation at the Calcutta Port had held up the ship. The tourists, including a dozen foreigners, were to set sail on December 18.

About 75 members of MV Nicobar’s crew were protesting against the director-general of shipping’s executive order of December 3 that scrapped the system of signing on a ship’s crew in front of the shipping master.

The sailors, belonging to the Citu-affiliated Forward Seamen’s Union of India, had threatened to strike work once the ship set sail. The agitation was part of an all-India movement against the order, that the union said violates the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.

A series of negotiations since the order was implemented on December 10 had failed, union general-secretary Sadhan Kanjilal said this evening.

“We have a meeting with various seamen’s unions in Mumbai on December 30 to consolidate our movement and chart a course of action,” he said.

Faced with the crew threat, the Shipping Corporation of India had postponed MV Nicobar’s departure.

The ship set sail at 11 tonight after “the shipping corporation agreed to sign on the crew under the old system”, Kanjilal said. “The measure was taken by the authorities at a meeting tonight, particularly for the MV Nicobar, because it was already delayed.”

Twelve of the crew, whose agreement had lapsed, left the ship, Kanjilal said. Their replacements would be signed on under the old system once MV Nicobar returned to Calcutta from Port Blair, he said.

Earlier, the corporation called an emergency meeting and decided to bring in the navy to drive the ship to the Andamans. The corporation then asked MV Nicobar captain D.P. Singh to call the passengers on board.

At 4.30 pm, the passengers queued up to board the ship. But there were no seamen to guide them to their cabins or bunks.

The passengers looked lost because they had no idea which ladder to take.

Paul Bonnini of Malta sat in the dock, near the ship, waiting for the confusion to clear. “I have no clue what is happening. Back home, we had heard about the Andamans and the beauty of taking the ship from Calcutta. It seems so messy here now,’’ he said.

His friend Alicia, the disgust evident on her face, said they have not seen “anything like this, anywhere in the world’’.

Passengers, particularly those from outside the city, had to shuttle back and forth with luggage for more than four days.

Jhantu Saha of Bongaon described how he lugged his stuff on train till Sealdah and then to the port in a taxi. He took the same route in the past four days.

For Saibal Sengupta of Dum Dum, it was a “wait till eternity for his dream vacation to begin’’. In front of his deluxe cabin 504, Sengupta, with daughter Sanchari in toe, said he “still hopes to enjoy whatever is left of the vacation”.

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