Sabah stranded seamen get help at last

Members of the crew have been working without pay since Aug 3.

KOTA KINABALU: The nine foreign crewmen who were stranded for four months without pay on board a vessel off Sabah’s shore are keeping their hopes high after two NGOs stepped up to assist them.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sabah chapter and Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) helped them lodge a police report on Tuesday and assisted in getting back their passports from the owner through the Immigration Department yesterday.

Crew leader Khurshid Iqbal shared a recording of a phone conversation between him and the owner where the owner told Khurshid he would never return their passports and documents to them although he would give them photocopies of the documents.

The owner also threatened to lodge a police report against Khurshid and to send the Immigration Department to the ship.

At the same time, third engineer Sumit Sandal also shared an audio recording of a conversation between him and an Indian High Commission staff member who advised him against lodging a police report on the matter.

The seamen, however, were met by the NGOs after they were sent to a health clinic for a medical check-up here on Tuesday and were all brought to the police station to lodge the report.

MTUC Sabah chapter vice-chairman Margaret Chin said she was hoping the case could be investigated under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act.

“Our reason was that they were kept in isolation on the ship for four months, their salaries were not given to them and their passports and other documents were taken from them which restricted their movement,” she said.

SEPA president Dr Lanash Thanda said: “As of last night, we were told that the passports are now with the Immigration Department and all the seamen will be issued a 30-day special pass to allow them to come on shore. However, we are not sure if the documents include their seamen licence and other important documents.”

District police chief ACP Habibi Majinji said police would open an investigation paper to find out if there was any criminal element in the case.

Meanwhile, the owner of the vessel, who did not want to be named, blamed the crew’s management and an agency for the delayed salary of the seamen. He said he was arranging for the payment of salaries “in the next few days” but blamed the crew members for creating chaos on board.

“I will take legal action against any party, including the crew, for tarnishing my name and reputation,” he warned.

Khurshid said the situation had caused much distress to the crew especially because the owner had been making the same promise since October.

“Every time we asked for our salary, he will say next week, next week, but nothing came out of it. I have a son who wanted to go to college and the deadline has already passed and I could not come up with the money, which means he wasted a year of study now.

“One of the crew members planned to get married when he gets back to India. Now he doesn’t have the money and he is stuck here.

“We all have problems, not just the owner. We came here with the intention to work and earn money. The contracts are all in proper order. He must pay us and send us home, that is all we want,” he said.

He thanked MTUC and SEPA for their continued assistance, including giving them proper provisions such as food and drinks.

“We are waiting now for the Labour Department to contact us. We have appointed MTUC to represent us and they will go with us to the department to negotiate.

“We hope everything will be resolved as soon as possible because we all want to go home and put this behind us,” he said.

For now, he said, they had enough provisions as MTUC had also pledged RM500 to send them proper food and enough water for cooking and drinking.