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Crew hostage to ship for months off Dubai

The 17-member crew of Maharshi Bhavatreya had watched with disbelief on July 2 the boat carrying Captain Aninda Sengupta and six sailors of the stranded Maharshi Devatreya to dry land after months at sea off the Dubai coast.

The crew of both ships — owned by Mumbai-based Varun Shipping — have many common threads. They were forced to lay anchor 2km apart off the Dubai coast and stay put there since the sail-worthy certificates of the two vessels had expired many months ago.

Unlike Sengupta’s ship, the ordeal for Maharshi Bhavatreya’s crew has been longer.

The Singapore-registered LPG carrier had docked at the Dubai anchorage in December 2012 after offloading cargo at New Mangalore. Since then, it lay anchored there because it cannot be tugged to shore or anywhere else without the requisite document.

The crew cannot abandon the vessel either because the situation on board doesn’t match any of the 16 specified distress conditions that would warrant such an action.

The ship’s chief engineer, Nalin Neeraj, who had joined the crew on November 2012 on a four-month contract, is still on board after 21 months and counting.

Captain Rajkiran S. Raikar and his crew had not stepped on shore for over a year because the errant owner of the vessel has yet to arrange for their replacement despite several assurances.

To make matter worse, Varun Shipping has not paid wages to the crew for the past eight months.

Raikar, who had joined the ship in October 2013 for four months, blamed the owner for the trouble.

“We are regularly speaking to the owner to send relievers but he has been neglecting us. This has been happening for the past four months. He makes a commitment and then backs out.”

“When crew of the other ship was discharged, we felt deceived. They were released because of media pressure,” he said over the phone from his anchored ship.

“The owner has four ships in the Dubai dry docks. He is spending money on them but there is no money for our assistance,” said the sailor from Karnataka.

Without a replacement crew, the ones stuck in the ship cannot be signed off.

Merchant navy sources said it would be difficult to find people to replace Raikar and his crew because of Varun Shipping’s mishandling of the two ships.

Yudhishthir Khatau, chairman and managing director of Varun Shipping, did not respond to a text message sent to him for a response.

Metro disruption

Metro services were disrupted for 40 minutes on Wednesday after the wheels of a rake got jammed around 1pm at the New Garia station crossover point. Officials said while engineers worked on the snag, trains from both directions ran along the New Garia-bound track causing delay.