It’s been several weeks since the container ship Evergiven ran aground in the Suez Canal, shutting down one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, but even if the world moves after its evacuation, The nightmare has just begun for the 25 Indian nationals making up its crew.
They are trapped on the ship Currently anchored in a man-made lake along Suez. They are the unfortunate victims of a legal dispute between the Egyptian authorities and the owners and operators of Ever Given.. The Egyptian authorities seized the ship because the state-owned Suez Canal Authority is demanding the Japanese owner, Shwe Kisen Keisha Ltd., in compensation of a huge amount of $ 916 million.
Since the company has chosen to fight the lawsuit, it is unclear when the ship’s crew will be allowed to disembark … they may be held for years. Expressing concern about the crew’s fate, Abdulghani Serang, president of the National Federation of Seafarers of India (NUSI), told The Guardian, “They are professionals who have nothing to do with this incident and should not be taken hostage.”
Although difficult to imagine the fact that the ship’s crew members were stranded or abandoned, The situation is surprisingly common and often the result of wage disputes, administrative problems, and the disappearance of the owners. In fact, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which maintains a database of these incidents, there were at least 31 desertions between January and August 2020, involving 470 sailors. Since 2004, the International Maritime Organization has recorded 438 such cases affecting more than 5,700 seafarers.
But the rescue operation that made international headlines for weeks has now turned into a bitter legal dispute. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) announced, after confiscating the ship, that it would refuse to allow its crew to go until the full amount was paid.
UK P&I, the marine insurance company representing the vessel flying the Panama flag, stated:The Securities and Commodities Authority has not provided a detailed justification for this unusually large claim, which includes a $ 300 million claim for a “rescue premium” and a $ 300 million claim for a “loss of reputation.”
The marine insurance community considers the amount claimed by the Securities and Commodities Authority to be grossly overrated, as previously reported on Lloyd’s List. And in an editorial, the marine magazine stated: “Behind the scenes, there is a feeling that the amount requested is not only ridiculous, but rather obscene.”
However, this would not give a respite to the crew, who could do nothing but wait for an unlikely, quick resolution of the issue. With multiple parties involved, from international companies to insurance companies to government agencies, the next legal battle is complex and could last several years.
“They feel in a delicate situation and understandably anxious to see if they will be able to return home as usual when their contracts expire,” explains the statement from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).
The 25 sailors at Evergiven face terrifying precedents, such as that of Muhammad Aisha, who spent four years trapped alone on a ship in Egypt.
Al-Suri had just joined MV Aman as a senior officer in 2017 when he was detained in Adabiya, Egypt, due to the expiration of his security equipment and certificates. The ship’s owners were unable to recover the ship and their contractors refused to pay. An Egyptian court ruled that Aisha was the ship’s legal guardian and the matter took place, but she was shocked when a few months later the rest of the crew began leaving the ship, while he had to stay. Thus began a four-year ordeal, in which Aisha ended up alone on the ship.
Since he was trapped near the Suez Canal, he occasionally managed to speak to his brother, another sailor, but he was not even able to attend his mother’s funeral when he passed away in 2018.
After years of defense, he finally manages to disembark the ship. “How do I feel? As if he had finally been released from prison.”
For unions, the unfortunate fact is that while seafarers are essential for the smooth running of world trade, their rights in these matters are being neglected. “Seafarers are not a priority when there is conflict,” said Mohamed Al-Rashidi, the ITF coordinator.
Guild representatives managed to reach Ever Guiven a few days ago to check on the well-being of their crew. They found that 25 sailors were trapped, as two were released for “urgent reasons,” as reported by the Egyptian authorities.
“Initially, the pandemic and then the crew-change crisis turned seafarers’ lives upside down, especially when governments imposed sweeping travel and border restrictions. Some seafarers have been trapped working on the same ships for more than a year after their initial contracts, ”Hendel said.
“We must remember that seafarers are the ones who have kept the world going through the worst health and economic crises we have faced since Covid.” Hindel added that many of these seafarers would be truly very angry if, after all their sacrifices, their profession was unfairly linked to an event outside of their control. “It is time to treat seafarers as key workers with the respect they deserve, and we can start to get every Ever Geffen crew member to return home to their families at the end of their private contracts,” he added.
The Evergreen was trapped in the canal from March 23-29, and now, nearly a month later, all 24 of the crew are still being held. If the dispute continues in court, it could take years for them to regain their freedom.
Seafarers will receive legal and logistical support at the local, national and international levels, in solidarity. They are not alone, “they concluded from the Indian Federation.