Ganesh Singh and his two shipmates from impounded vessel MEEM anchored at Bhavnagar off the coast of Gujarat stand outside a tour and travel store near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. It is 8 pm, and they are haggling for the cheapest ticket to Bhavnagar. They have almost run out cash but are returning to Bhavnagar, where they have been stranded first on the vessel and then at an Ashram, armed with some court relief. The Bombay High Court has ruled that a fourth of the pending salaries of the stranded sailors, which they have not been paid for more than a year, be paid by the Mumbai Sheriff and recovered from the sale proceeds of the vessel, that was headed for the Alang shipbreaking yard, when it was berthed. They can now hope to return home with something in their pockets for the families.
Soon after the ship was berthed after an admirality row, the sailors had run out of food and water supply.
They said the last salary they were paid was for February and March, 2014. They have not been paid any salary between April 2014 and May 2015. Getting no help from any quarters, they approached the Bombay High Court. The court has ruled that 25 per cent of the salaries due to the eight crewmen, be released by the Sheriff of Mumbai.
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They had somehow collected Rs 10,000 to reach Mumbai for the court hearing.
“Twenty five percent of the salary due to the eight crew members and the captain of the ship Mommahad Sabrah, who is a Syrian national, shall be released by the Sheriff of Mumbai from out of the sale proceeds (of the vessel),” said S C Gupte. The crew were represented in court by advocates Mani Prakash and Kranti L C.
Singh, along with Mintu Mondal, a cook on the vessel, and Kamal Mehra, another crew member had arrived in Mumbai on May 10. The court hearing in the case was on May 13 and May 15.
“We were living in a lodge in Belapur. We are happy that we can go home once we get the money. That will only happen on Monday. Until then we will stay in Bhavnnagar,” said Singh. Both Singh and Mehra are from Uttarakhand .
“We cannot even explain what we went through. After receiving our salaries for February and March 2014, we didn’t get a single penny. We got the last batch of food supplies and drinking water on December 25, 2014. This was provided by the agent of the ship. In the end we were cooking spoilt grains and eating it and boiling salt water. On February 15, 2015, we left the vessel using a lifeboat,” said Singh.
The eight crewmen reached Gogha Lighthouse in Gujarat on February 16, and informed all port authorities. They were living at the Customs office there.
“On February 18, We moved to Pathika Ashram in Bhavnagar where we are currently residing. When no one bothered to help us, we decided to approach court with the help of some friends,” said Mehra.
They initially got some help from agent in terms of money for accommodation and food, but later had to ask friends and relatives for help.
The crewmen said while they were in touch with their families over the phone, they couldn’t leave Bhavnagar without the money. “How can we? We have nothing to show for all the months away from home,” said Mintu. Happy about the release of the 25 percent salary, they hope the rest of the amount will be released soon.
On Friday, the court asked the Sheriff to release 25 per cent salary to two Syrian nationals, the captain of the ship and the chief engineer.
The chief engineer Abdullah Alal has been in Mumbai since a week and came all the way from Tartus in Syria to get his claim. He was part of an earlier crew of MEEV. “The situation back home is very abnormal. I had to take a loan from people to come here for my salary. I had no other choice,” he said.