DUBAI // Half of the crew of a Vietnamese ship that has been stranded in Jebel Ali Port since August will soon head home after finally being given permission by the vessel's owners.
The decision to allow nine of the 18 crew members to leave comes just weeks after the seamen, who have been living on charity handouts, hung signs on their vessel saying "Let us go home" and "No food, no salary".
The state-owned Diamond Way owes more than Dh514,000 in berthing charges to Jebel Ali Port authorities. The crew can only leave with the approval of the ship owner. This was finally granted to nine of the men four days ago.
"The Vietnamese government has ordered the ambassador to arrange for the crew to go home and pay for their ticket and transportation," said the ship's captain, Than Anh Duc, 38.
Vinashinlines, a subsidiary of Vietnam National Shipping Lines, owns the vessel and has not paid some of the crew for almost a year.
"None of the crew has any hope that Vinashinlines will pay their salary so they want to go home as soon as possible," said Mr Duc.
He added that Vinashinlines had agreed to allow only eight crewmen to return to Vietnam, but another sailor was leaving with the embassy's help. He said others may also leave the UAE soon.
"The nine remaining crew on board are waiting for more instructions from Vinashinlines," he said. "If there is nothing, we will request to the embassy to go home without permission of the owner."
The ship was carrying steel pipes and had sailed to India and Oman before arriving in Dubai. Its safe-manning certificate states that at least 13 sailors should always be on board. But Mr Duc said since the ship was not in a working condition, a crew of seven was sufficient.
The Vietnamese embassy, which is arranging the men's tickets, said it was hoped they could return in time for the Vietnamese New Year.
"I hope they can leave within two weeks," said Tran Ngoc Thach, the ambassador. "The new year is on February 10. I hope they can join their families by then.
"We are starting the process. We have to get permission from UAE authorities for them to leave the port and the country."
Mr Thach said the decision on how many crew could leave was down to the captain. "In principle, the captain has to decide how many can leave and he has decided nine," he said. "We will pay for the tickets. We expect the ship's owner to reimburse us in the future."
Mr Thach said Vinashinlines' decision was a positive sign.
"It is an indication that the matter is being resolved, for better or for worse," he added.
The ship's Dubai-based agent, National Shipping Services, which is holding the men's passports, said it was waiting for a letter from the embassy to release them.
"The ship's owner has not given us acknowledgement that the crew can leave," said a spokesman. "In the absence of their permission, the Vietnamese ambassador is giving us a written undertaking. We are waiting for the letter."
He said immigration clearance usually took less than two days.