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18 sailors on stranded Vietnamese ship cry for help
  • | The Times of India | February 15, 2011 04:29 PM

"We don\'t have anything to eat... About 85% of what we have are damaged... Concerned agent has stopped supply. Please save us sir..." So reads a message from the captain of a Vietnamese ship stranded outside the Chennai port for nearly six months. It is one of the continuous requests to Sailors Helpline, Chennai pouring out from the vessel with 18 sailors on board.

Chennai port

Captain Maung Maung Iwin, master of MV Bien Nam who spoke to The Time of India over phone on Monday evening, said the sailors were starving for the last couple of days. "A few damaged bread pieces remain ... there has been nothing else to eat for the last one week apart from ocean food. It has been more than 10 days since we ran out of drinking water. The situation is dangerous and we do not want to continue on board the vessel anymore," he said.

"The vessel has no power and the main engine is completely damaged. As we cannot operate the generators, we are facing a dangerous situation at night. A complete blackout may even cause collision with other vessels," he added.

The pyrotechnic distress signal system, used to alert people on shore for help in an emergency, could expire soon and the oily-water separator is broken, says Capt. Iwin in one of his communications with Sailors Helpline.

"I was shocked to hear the problems from the captain. Authorities should take immediate action to save the lives of the sailors or should mobilise tug vessels to avoid accidents in the outer seas. Though the port authorities are willing to help, there are no legal provisions to settle the issue. Steps should be taken to prevent entry of such substandard vessels into Indian seas," said Sailors Helpline coordinator Manoj Joy.

K Sreekumar, ITF inspector and assistant secratray of Madras port trust employees union, confirmed that the sailors were in trouble. "The owner of the vessel is bankrupt. Based on an agreement with the owner, the vessel\'s agents in the city had been supplying food and other provisions for the last couple of months. They stopped supply last week when payments from the owner stopped. We are trying to get them food as soon as possible," said Sreekumar, who recently supplied Rs. 35,000 worth of food items with the help of the Seafarers\' Club and the Chennai Port Trust.

"We are about three miles away from the shore. As engines are not functional, the anchor is not stable and there are no tug vessels to fix up the anchorage. And the vessel could even drift to the entrance of the port causing accidents," said Captain Iwin.

Port officials and shipping officials concerned made it clear they could not help the sailors even under humanitarian grounds as there were no legal provisions.

When contacted, Phan Thanh Thuy, consular officer at the Vietnamese Embassy in New Delhi, said they were aware of the situation and were trying to contact the vessel owner to settle the case.

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