Nineteen marine cadets from Bangladesh are currently lodged in the custody of Belapur police in India as their transit visas have expired. Their letters of invitation (LOIs) and joining contracts were found to be fake as they had been fleeced by their agent.
The cadets were sent to Mumbai via Kolkata on June 16 and 17 this year in two phases to sign on two foreign vessels, MV Carina Ocean (cargo vessel), carrying the flag of Singapore, and MT Cypress Galaxy (oil/chemical tanker), bearing the flag of Panama, by Westway Marine Academy (WMA) of Dhaka.
The cadets were scheduled to board the ships on June 18 this year. However, before signing on the ships, their agent disappeared with their money, and their LOIs and joining contracts were found to be fake.
On June 30, Belapur police took the cadets in their custody. At present, they cannot return home due to the legal imbroglio. The Department of Shipping (DoS), which is empowered to check documents, is blaming the WMA for not checking the documents properly.
Questions have been raised as to how the cadets were sent to India without receiving permission from the Department of Shipping (DoS), which is responsible for checking all documents and verifying the existence of ships.
Pointing fingers at the DoS and alleging bribery, relatives of the cadets said all the documents were fake.
The relatives of the cadets are now spending their days in anxiety and are totally clueless about when they will return safely. Many cadets have taken loans, which have also caused huge financial losses to their families.
Shahmim Uddin Ahmed, shipping master of DoS, who is responsible for checking the documents, told The Independent: “The Westway Marine Academy formally applied to us, but the application was incomplete. We asked them to submit other documents.
However, they are yet to submit any documents.”
Repeated attempts to contact WMA chairman ASM Azim proved futile. The ‘managing manager’ and the general manager of the WMA did not take the calls either.
In Mumbai, an agent identified as Sanjay Shah received the cadets, and brought them to a hotel named Gitanjali, located in New Panvel.
On 17 June, at the hotel he collected USD 3,200 each from the cadets, and obtained their signatures on some pieces of paper for boarding the ships.
“However, the ships left Mumbai port on June 18 this year. We could not board the ships as the agent disappeared. The documents, too, were fake,” said Md Mikail Hossain, a cadet, over mobile phone from India yesterday. They had gone with the LOI of World Tanker Shipping Services to sign on the respective vessels.
Finding no other way and after losing all money, the cadets informed WMA, Bangladesh. An official of the academy, identified as Mahfuzul Alam, went to India.
“In the meantime, the academy engaged another agent, Ayaz Ibrahim Phatan. However, after checking all the papers, Ayaz confirmed that all the documents were fake,” said Mikail Hossain. He also transferred the cadets to another hotel, named Lucky, on June 21.
They again informed the WMA, and then Mahfuzul Alam flew to Mumbai on June 25, said Mikail Hossain.
In the meantime, many of the cadets’ visas had expired. Mahfuzul Alam collected the cadets’ passports to bring them to the Bangladeshi High Commission in New Delhi for extending their visas.
“The police, however, arrested Mahfuz Alam on June 30,” disclosed Mikail. “The police also arrested us on the midnight of June 30 and kept us in CPD-Belapur police custody,” he said.
“Two officers of the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh in Mumbai visited us on July 1. Our academy is now fighting the case legally. But we are yet to come out of police custody. We are leading miserable lives,” said two other cadets, Saikat and Shahmim, who are also currently in police custody.