While some 3 lakh people were reportedly evacuated from coastal Gujarat to keep them out of the path of Cyclone Vayu, lives of 32 seamen were abandoned to their fates, and the whimsy of the storm's churn, all in the interest of keeping port assets safe.
The cyclone alert, which had thrust state machinery including its ports into hectic protective activity, was expected to hit Gujarat's coast on Thursday. Aiming to minimise the damage to their vessels and other infrastructure, Porbandar port, like others, asked the ships docked at the harbour to cast off to the seas on Wednesday. As a result, 32 mariners on a rundown vessel found themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The ship, a dredger called Omkara Prem, had been at Porbandar port since May 29 for want of supplies, fuel, water, and so on. The following day, a surveyor from Mercantile Marine Department marked the vessel unseaworthy, or unfit to sail, as it was deficient in its life-saving equipment, signaling lamp, machinery, and so on. On May 31, Captain Karuna Shankar, the vessel's in-charge, raised a May Day call, as reported by DNA in a May 31 report. ('Sailors on Mercator dredger rasie May Day call'.)
The call was attended to and supplies replenished, but faults in the vessel were not rectified. Yet, the crew were asked to stay aboard, which is against the law, says the captain. "The port authorities violated the law on many counts: by asking the ship to leave the port despite it being detained by MMD, and secondly by forcing us to board the ship after a call to abandon was given," said Captain Shankar.
At the moment, the ship is somewhere in the Gulf of Kutch facing strong winds and rough waters.
Narrating Wednesday's exchanges after having de-boarded, Captain Shankar said, "We were threatened by the police and the port authorities that action would be initiated if we did not follow their instructions. We were also told that we would be put behind the bars for life for having abandoned the ship."
The cyclone, it turned out, deviated from its expected path, sparing the ship. "Had the storm proceeded as per its earlier path, there could have been damage to this unseaworthy vessel putting 32 lives at risk. Fortunately, storm Vayu changed its course and its impact wasn't very severe," said Akash Verma, who has been in touch with the crew after having blown the whistle on social media.
The 32 seafarers - unpaid since April, low on supplies and fighting the vessel owner and authorities - want to leave the ship. For this to happen, the owners will have to arrange for a new set of crew
When Director General of Shipping Amitabh Kumar was contacted for his response, he said, "The owner of this vessel needs to make the dredger seaworthy apart from replacing the crew."
Read More ...