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Abandoned: Sailors have spent two years at sea | Human Rights


Akash Kumar was delighted to board his first passenger train, a freight forwarder named Ula.

“That time was exciting … the dream came true. I joined this trade navy because I love to see other places, other countries,” he says.

The 25-year-old Indian sailor was captivated by the job with the promise of high pay and a ticket to see the world. But its first economic manifestation soon turned into the last period of independence.

Shortly after Akash joined Ula in February 2019, leaving Messaieed in Qatar, there was a shortage of food, fuel, fuel and water. In September of that year, the ship was switched off for 19 days.

When it arrived in Kuwait in February 2020, the COVID-19 epidemic was spreading and the country was devastated.

While waiting at the port, the owner of Ula, Aswan Trading and Contracting in Qatar, said it had no funds to support the ship. Then the owner stopped paying the workers and cut them.

The 19-year-old Ula crew was told to wait until the cargo of the ship, the stone remains, was released before taking off. The weeks became months.

Some crew, such as Akash, had been in the ship for more than two years.

“Sometimes I cry at home because last year I couldn’t go to my cousin’s wedding, which was so close to me. And a lot has happened at my house, but I can’t … stay, ”says Akash.

“If it weren’t for the plague, we would be at home [months earlier], ”Said Bhanu Shankar Panda, 47, Ula’s third engineer. The Indian sailor has been on board the ship since October 2019 and is said to be the only one who has ever sailed.

Sailors Bhanu Shankar Panda (left) and Akash Kumar (right) [Al Jazeera]

‘Old, deceptive machines’

The number of seafarers left on board has increased during the plague. Under the Maritime Labor Convention, sailors are considered to be exempted if the shipowners cut off or leave the ship unattended or unaccompanied and unpaid crew and return home.

It has been described as a “shipwreck cancer” by the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

In addition, 200,000 sailors would have been missing from the sea since June 2021, according to the International Labor Organization, unable to return home due to closed borders and excluding people from the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We still have a lot of skulduggery going on, on the high seas,” says Matt Purcell, an official from the Federation.

Purcell says shipping companies have a huge impact on their operations, managing their finances, their schedules and the time they can leave. He describes it as “an old, criminal system”.

“For centuries it has been one of the most successful companies in the world because of the invisible, unseen,” he says.


The owner of Ula, Aswan Trading and Contracting, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request.

The company’s chairman, Nasser Hamed al-Nuaimi, is wanted by Qatari officials and the company has been appointed.

Al Jazeera has evidence that another company, Aswan Shipping Denizcilik from Turkey, was in charge of Ula, although the company denied any association with the ship and Aswan Trading and Contracting.

The Aswan Shipping Denizcilik also uses two other ships – the Maryam and the Movers 3, recently built off the coast of Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) also said Maryam – 23 of whom were from Turkey, India and Georgia, among other countries – was unfit. It had no electricity, no running water, no sanitation, and no security equipment.

His sister’s ship, the Movers 3, also had no water. During his time in prison, he had enough water for 22 workers in less than three days.

“No Freedom [by] the agent does not want to meet their basic needs to make their ships safer and provide employment opportunities and accommodation for the crew, about half of Maryam’s first crew wants to return home, ”he said. He said Allan Schwartz, general manager of AMSA.

“In the past few months AMSA and other parties involved in this have had to pull Aswan Shipping off the table to address the shortcomings on its fleet,” he added.

Maryam’s first ten staff members have now been replaced by new members.

The ship has been banned in Australian waters for 36 months, a long-term ban imposed by authorities, and Movers 3 for 18 months.

Workers in Ula are sleeping on the beach in Kuwait [Al Jazeera]

‘Being mistreated than animals’

Returning to Kuwait, Ula members were finally released from the ship on June 4, 2020 after their goods were released.

The workers are said to owe more than $ 410,000 in wages.

In order to provide for their families, many have taken on debt that would make it difficult for them to repay.

“I have promised the lender that when I get to India, I will repay (the money)… How can I be accountable to the lender?” said Bhanu Shankar Panda, the ship’s third engineer.

“We suffer more than animals. We are thrown a piece of bread to eat and run the ship. We’re beggars now. ”


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