For more than eight months, 12 Indian seafarers have been stranded on the shores of Scotland after the vessel they were aboard, Malaviya Seven – owned by a Mumbai company – was detained by maritime authorities over the owners’ failure to pay them wages.

Essential supplies are running short and the vessel owner – shipping giant GOL Offshore Ltd – is yet to pay up, but the crew members are refusing to return home until they receive their dues. The company owes its employees more than $650,000 and stopped paying them wages regularly early last year.

Of the 36 crew members originally on board the vessel, which is now docked at Aberdeen, 24 returned to India even as they await their wages. They spoke to this reporter about the anguish of their colleagues’ families and the financial difficulties they were facing. “I’m in touch with some family members of my colleagues and they are heart broken. They don’t stop crying,” said a seafarer who was onboard Malaviya Seven. “They [some families] have EMIs to pay. Some families are facing real tough times.”

‘Longing for our family’

The remaining 12 stayed back fearing that they would be no chance of them getting the money if they left the vessel, which has seemingly been abandoned by the owners. “I was supposed to go back home in October but I realised that if I leave the ship, there will be no prospect of receiving salaries so I stayed back,” said one of the stranded sailors. “I didn’t leave sufficient funds for my family hence I had to arrange for three loans. The latest loan I took from a moneylender 10 days ago was at a 12% interest rate. It was only after much cajoling and requests that the moneylender agreed to give a final loan to my wife.”

The seafarers requested not to be named.

They have less than a month’s supply of diesel left, without which all the appliances and machinery on the ship will stop. For food and other provisions, they rely on the assistance of church groups and people in the neighbourhood. But their physical and emotional health is deteriorating as the days go by slowly and are nightmarish.

“We are getting to eat and have place to sleep but we are longing for our family,” said one of the stranded sailors. “We have to show a happy face otherwise our wives, kids and parents will be devastated.”

Another ship from GOL Offshore Ltd’s fleet, Malaviya Twenty, which was arrested at the port of Great Yarmouth in England last year, was released in February after the International Transport Workers’ Federation managed to successfully recover the sailor’s outstanding dues.

“We hope that we too get our dues cleared just like Malaviya Twenty.” said another seafarer who worked on Malaviya Seven who is now back in India.“Life is very hard for the colleagues who are still on the ship. Families are suffering and are under tremendous stress.”

A seafarer stranded on board the Malaviya Seven said this was his second stint on the vessel and he had not been paid in full for his first tenure either, which ended February last year. “I was promised that all dues would be cleared and salaries would be paid regularly hence I came again in June,” he said. “I am now stuck and can only hope that I get paid. My wife is not keeping well and my two sons aged 11 and 9 constantly ask when will I come home. But I cannot go empty handed.”

Little Indian support

A vessel can be detained overseas for non-compliance with international conventions, which includes outstanding wages.

The vessel was first detained in June, by the International Transport Workers’ Federation union with the support of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It was briefly released, before being detained again in October. The International Transport Workers’ Federation has been helping the crew members get legal help in their fight against unpaid dues and has been campaigning on their behalf. In March, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency got the vessel arrested through an order by the Aberdeen sheriff court. The arrest of a vessel increases the chances of a settlement as the vessel owners or the creditors have to respond in court.

International Transport Workers’ Federation inspector Liam Wilson told this reporter that the families of the eight out of the 12 crew members are surviving on loans and financial support from family and friends. The Federation is reportedly considering approaching a court to sell off the ship – and give the proceedings to the crew members – if the company does not settle the claims. “This is a real tragedy and I hope the Indian authorities had taken more interest in this matter,” said Wilson. “There has been no positive dialogue or response from the company officials. I haven’t spoken to them for a long time as there was never an acceptable level of response. It was because of this that the ship was detained.”

The local community and authorities at the Aberdeen port are shocked at the treatment meted out to the seafarers by their country. “The owners and the Indian flag state should hang their head in shame” said Ken Fleming, the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s UK and Ireland coordinator. “Equally all those that could have brought the situation to an end months ago should reflect on their inactivity. The ITF [International Transport Workers’ Federation] will now deal aggressively with the situation.”