KOTA KINABALU: Nine Indian and Pakistani seamen have ended their six-month ordeal aboard a ship here after they finally returned home today.
None of them, however, received their salaries allegedly owed to them by the shipowner.
The seamen – eight from India and one from Pakistan – first alerted FMT in November about their pitiful living conditions after the owner apparently abandoned them four months earlier without enough food and clean water.
Suffering from skin diseases and psychological trauma, they appealed for medical help and demanded that the owner pay their outstanding salaries.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sabah chapter vice-chairman Margaret Chin, Sabah Environment Protection Association (SEPA) president Lanash Thanda and their friends worked around the clock to pressure authorities into getting medical help for them and to recover their passports and documents held by the owner’s agent.
The Immigration Department managed to repossess the passports after the victims made a report to the department, and a volunteer doctor from a private hospital visited the men on board the ship to check on their health.
Over the next several weeks, Chin and the other NGO members managed to get the authorities to pull the broken-down vessel to the jetty.
They also filed the case with the labour court to recover the salaries owed by the shipowner.
However, the deteriorating living conditions aboard the vessel made it impossible for the crew to live there any longer.
The court procedure was then stopped, although the file was not closed in the hope they could pursue the case from their own countries.
The manning company agreed to help with their repatriation, and they finally arrived home today.
Speaking to FMT, Chin said the case is now with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), which will discuss the unpaid wages with the shipowner.
“We had to send them home because it was traumatic for them. Besides, the court case would probably be a long process.
“It is obvious the shipowner wants to drag the case as long as possible,” she said.
Chin said the crew will get to tell their story on national TV in India as a reporter there has made contact with them.
The Indian external affairs ministry has also been informed of the case, she said.
“We advised them to make a formal complaint to the ministry. The shipowner should not get away with this after the way he treated his employees,” she said.
The shipowner has sent an email to the Immigration Department and the Marine Department, in which he claimed the seamen have not worked since Nov 24 and that the salaries should be paid by the manning agency.
However, the manning agency disputed this, saying the shipowner had failed in his responsibilities to take care of the crew’s welfare.
“We repatriated the crew on humanitarian grounds as the shipowner was unable to pay them their salaries and reasonably keep them on board.
“We repatriated them at our own expenses to stop their suffering, so, the shipowner must stop blaming the crew,” said the agency’s legal adviser, Ankit V Tiwari.