Calcutta, April 24: Seven hundred and fifty-two passengers aboard MV Nicobar, that was to sail to Port Blair last night, returned home today after crew members acting under the Citu banner mutinied and refused to let the ship leave Kidderpore dock.
Manoj Kumar, captain of the second-largest ship plying between Calcutta and Port Blair, was assaulted and his officers threatened by the militant crew. The vessel has 300 tonnes of perishable cargo.
MV Nicobar was meant to set sail around 11 pm on Friday, but 24 contract catering staff of the passenger liner, backed by the majority of the ship’s 55-member non-officer crew, stopped the captain from sailing, asking for dues to be settled.
The contract catering seamen, belonging to the Citu-affiliated Forward Seamens’ Union of India, arrived from Port Blair on the same ship on April 19, two days before their contract with the Directorate of Shipping Services of Andaman and Nicobar islands was scheduled to end. But the seamen stayed put, alleging their salaries and outstanding dues had not been cleared.
Sadhan Kanjilal, general secretary of the Citu-affiliated union, said today: “The union won’t allow the ship to move an inch until all the dues are settled in Calcutta.”
Ships did not ply between Calcutta and the islands for 10 months in a similar Citu-sponsored fracas in 1997. Shipping corporation officials fear there may be a repeat this time as most of the ship crew feel unsafe and are not willing to ply ships on this route.
Late in the evening, it was learnt that talks had failed. Kumar has said all passengers will be refunded their ticket costs on Monday. No one knows when the ship will ply again.
Earlier, the captain had sent an SOS to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and his employers, the Shipping Corporation of India Ltd, the agents for the island administration, to ensure the ship sets sail. “If it does not leave tonight, it will be held up for 10 days due to low tide,” he warned.
Trouble had been brewing since the ship docked at Kidderpore last Monday, but things turned ugly yesterday when Kumar asked the 756 enlisted passengers to board the ship around 2 pm.
The agitating crew stormed into the captain’s cabin after the initial lot of passengers boarded the ship, saying the vessel would not be allowed to set sail.
All hell broke loose around 10.30 pm, half an hour before the scheduled departure, as the crew and some outsiders roughed up Kumar. “They later forced me to announce that the ship would not move an inch,” he said.