Nineteen seafarers from India, Bangladesh, Turkey and Azerbaijan will finally be able to see their families after a two-year ordeal aboard the ULA, - and it’s thanks to intervention by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
One member of the crew had been trapped aboard the ship for 31 months.
The seafarers were left abandoned as part of a larger crew of 25 when the ULA’s owner, Aswan Trading and Contracting, stopped paying their wages and providing food, fuel and water in 2019.
One seafarer, recalling the experience of being abandoned off the coast of Iran, said 25 crew on board had fallen ill due to [a] lack of medication, fresh drinking water, and food. “At times we only had enough provisions for one meal a day.”
Covid-19 further complicated the issue – and despite the ITF facilitating the vessel’s entry to the port at Shuaiba, Kuwait, the country’s Covid restrictions prevented them from disembarking.
In January the abandoned crew began a hunger strike in front of the world’s media – determined to be forgotten no longer.
Their message was urgent but defiant to rogue shipowner Aswan. They appealed to Kuwaiti authorities to pay the crew’s owed wages in Aswan’s stead, and to help them finally get home to their families. Kuwait was willing to help with the latter. But recovering the seafarers’ wages, Kuwait said, would require sale of the ship – which could take years. Neither side budged.
The ITF has built a legal case to try to recover lost wages.
“But even if the ship is sold for a good price and all of the wages are returned to these seafarers – what is the human cost? What is the price of this trauma?” the ITF’s Arab World and Iran network coordinator Mohamed Arrachedi said.