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Seamen's union offers help to broke shipping company

Mumbai, Jan 4 (IANS) As many as 151 sailors, including some in China and Bahrain, remain stranded aboard six ships of Mumbai's Pratibha Shipping Company, which has been offered financial assistance by a seamen's union, a top maritime authority said Friday.

In the past couple of months, nine oil tankers belonging to the company have been facing rough weather either in ports, shipyards or on the sea as their statutory and mandatory certificates have expired, the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) said here.

The company's financial constraints have resulted in immense hardships for the crew on board these ships whose salaries and dues remain unpaid. They are demanding that they be rescued.

The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) has now offered financial help to the broke company in view of its sailor-members' plight. The company will repay the money to NUSI after scrapping some of the stranded ships.

Of the nine stranded ships, three are in shipyards abroad for repairs while six are in Indian waters, said DGS.

In view of the repeated pleas by families of the sailors and NUSI, DGS held an emergency meeting here Thursday and directed the company to take priority steps to provide relief to the stranded crew members.

A vessel, M.T. Pratibha Koyna, is presently in Bahrain, arrested for non-payment of dues.

However, its entire 34-member crew was deported to India recently at the government's cost which will be recovered from the shipping company, the DGS said.

Two vessels, M.T. Pratibha Chandrabhaga and M.T. Pratibha Narmada, are stranded in a Chinese shipyard, stranding the 13 crewmen on it.

Because of strict Chinese regulations and non-payment of dues by the ship owners, the process of repatriation of the stranded sailors is getting delayed, DGS said.

M.T. Pratibha Cauvery was repaired and re-floated at Chennai and continues to remain there without paying dues.

Another vessel, M.T. Pratibha Warna, is anchored off Chennai and DGS has directed the owners to permit its captain to disembark on compassionate grounds.

Two other vessels -- M.T. Pratibha Tapi and M.T. Pratibha Indrayani -- are anchored around 30 nautical miles off Mumbai without food and water for the crew.

The DGS and Indian Coast Guard have rushed to help several of the crewmen suffering from food poisoning, fever and other ailments and the entire crew will be rescued beginning Saturday.

The DGS and the coast guard also rescued a second engineer from Kerala from M.T. Pratibha Bheema, anchored off Goa, while many more continue to be stranded aboard M.T. Pratibha Cauvery off Vishakhapatnam port.

At Thursday's meeting, Pratibha Shipping Company's managing director Sunil Pawar assured that immediate steps would be taken to rescue all the 151 stranded crew members within seven to 10 days.

Pawar said he planned to sell M.T. Pratibha Chandrabhaga and M.T. Pratibha Narmada, stranded in China, and scrap M.T. Pratibha Tapi and M.T. Pratibha Warna, and M.T. Pratibha Cauvery after clearing its legal issues with Madras High Court.

M.T. Pratibha Neera and M.T. Pratibha Bheema will be re-commissioned for commercial operations while efforts are on to secure the release of M.T. Pratibha Indrayani.

Pawar said he would repay the financial assistance provided by NUSI from the proceeds of the sale and scrapping of ships under DGS monitoring.

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