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No move to bring back 22 crew members

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Stuck on Impounded ship in Guinea for over 7 months

SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS, Ctg
No move to bring back 22 crew members
Publication Date: 7 July, 2015 00:00 00 AM
Media: The Independent

Though seven months have passed, 22 Bangladeshi crew members are trapped on a vessel carrying a flag of Bangladesh in the West African port of Conakry in Guinea, as the ship is yet to receive clearance to leave the port. The ship was impounded after a case was lodged that it had allegedly arrived late in Guinea, which caused its cargo of rice to rot, thereby causing business losses to the importer.
The members of the crew are leading sub-human lives, with very low access to food, drinking water, electricity, health facilities and other basic needs on the ship.
There is no sign that they would returning home very soon, said some crew members who have managed to return. Most of the crew members are ill, both physically and mentally, for continuously staying in the ship. Members of the crew have lost much weight, said sources in the crew.
The ship, MV Dahiatul Kalbi, is owned by a private Bangladeshi company, Continental Liner Agencies. It is allegedly yet to take any concrete steps to ensure that the stranded crew returns. Their kith and kin in the country are passing their days in growing concern as to when they would be released and would be able to return to their families.
In the meantime, the crew of the vessel have sent several letters and emails describing their suffering and misery on the vessel to the Department of Shipping (DoS). They have sought help from the authorities, urging them to rescue the crew from such dreadful situation. The crew alleged that the owner of the vessel has not paid them their salaries, which was also causing financial hardship to their family members in Bangladesh.
“According to the International Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, in such a situation, the owner of the ship is supposed to repatriate the crew to the home country,” said Capt. KM Jashim Uddin Sarkar, chief nautical surveyor of DoS. He also said, “We have received many letters and emails from the stranded crew members, wherein they have described their miseries. We have asked the owner of the ship to return the ill-fated crew within the earliest possible time. We have also asked them to pay all their salaries without delay.”
Capt. Matiul Islam, general manager of the ship, told The Independent, “If we repatriate the crew of the ship now, we have to declare the ship abandoned. It is not possible to declare the ship abandoned.” “We are fighting a legal battle in an African court to free the ship,” said Matiul Islam. However, he could not say when the legal tangle would be resolved.
While asked about the unpaid salaries of the crew, he said, “We have paid some salaries to the crew members in two instalments.” In the vessel, there was a total of 28 crew members. However, the chief engineer, second and third engineer, an engine cadet and two ordinary seamen, were able to return home.
Md Tazul Islam Talukdar, chief engineer of the vessel who managed to return on June 18, told The Independent: “All the members of the crew of the vessel were mentally ill. Many were affected by different diseases. However, there is little access to medical treatment. There is also a massive shortage of drinking water and food.” “I have lost 10 kg weight because of the tension. The meals were insufficient. I have been afflicted with kidney diseases. This is the situation for all the crew members who are in the vessel. Their condition is going to deteriorate day by day as they are afflicted with diseases,” added Talukdar. “The company also did not pay us our salaries. I am owed salary payments for seven months by the company for about USD 48,000. Similar is the case with other crew members.”
Mashfiq-ul-Hasan, second engineer of the ship, returned on June 28 this year. He told The Independent, “The lives of the crew members who are on the ship are endangered. The crew members have to drink sea water. There are hardly enough funds to buy oil for the generators, and they can hardly cook food as supplies of electricity are insufficient. They cannot buy food as they cannot get down from the ship.”
The ship loaded cargo rice from Kakinada port and steel coils from Paradip port of India between June and July 2014. The Port State Control (PSC) of India advised repairs as it noticed some technical glitches at Paradip port. Then the goods-laden vessel returned to Chittagong port for some repairs in July 2014. After completing repairs, the vessel sailed out of Chittagong on July 22, 2014, and reached Lome port of Togo on August 27to unload steel coils. The vessel had to wait at the outer anchorage of Lome port for 41 more days to unload the cargo as there was a congestion of ships at the port. The ship went to Conakry with 6,000 metric tonnes of rice on October 28, 2014, some three months after the expected arrival time, and unloaded the rice in the port on November 21 last year.
After the rice was unloaded from the vessel, the importer alleged that the late arrival damaged the rice and caused business losses to the importer. Amit Chaterjee, an Indian-African importer, lodged a complaint with the local court through the agent Musa Kaba.
Owing to the dilapidated and ramshackle condition of the ship, the lack of sufficient power ventilation and a hole in the hatch cover of the ship, water entered the ship, said sources in the crew.  Rice-worms attacked the rice, which caused the rice to rot, they explained. “We are trying to return the crew and the ship via diplomatic channels to the country,” said Matiul Islam.
Moreover, the vessel is unfit to sail again in Bangladesh as its seaworthy certificate, registered with the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) in Chittagong, expired in May 2015, said MMD sources.

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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