DUBAI // Sailors stuck on board their vessel in a UAE port for almost two years because of a legal wrangle say they are still owed thousands of dollars in unpaid salaries.
The crew of the cargo ship Azraq 7 filed a case with the Dubai Labour Court before leaving the country in 2011 and are hopeful they can recover their wages from their former employers.
"The Dubai labour court ruled in our favour," Ghulam Mustafa, 48, the ship's captain, said from Pakistan . "I am owed about US$28,000 [Dh103,000]. The money will be very helpful.
"My family went through such hardship when I was away and had taken loans for their survival."
The men's ordeal began in May 2009 when they set sail from Ajman to deliver diesel to Mogadishu. Their ship had engine trouble near Masirah Island, Oman, and had to be rescued, after which it was taken to Fujairah.
The Somalian company expecting the diesel filed a case against the ship's owners for failing to deliver and the legal wrangle meant the ship could not leave the Emirates.
Five sailors had to stay on board to man the ship, in accordance with maritime law, and were prevented from leaving the vessel because they did not have valid UAE visas.
For almost two years the men endured extreme weather, power cuts and depended on handouts to survive.
Since the company's owners could not be traced, in April 2011 a Khorfakkan court ordered a judicial auction of the ship, with the sailors estimating it was sold for about Dh2 million.
The following August the men were finally allowed to leave and return to their families. But before going they filed cases with the Dubai Labour Court against their employers to recover wages, which ranged from $300 to $3,000 a month.
In December 2011, the court ordered the payment of three men's salaries.
"The court delivered the judgment in three of the sailors' favour," said Alessandro Tricoli, partner at Fichte & Co, a Dubai-based law firm that is providing assistance to the crew.
"But the case of two other crew members was rejected by the court on technicalities.
"Captain Mazin, whose case was rejected, has appealed the judgment and we are waiting for the second sailor to come back to Dubai to file an appeal."
Although three verdicts were in favour of the sailors, the courts allowed a longer period for the judgments to become final and enforceable as they were given in absentia. That period was up last month.
Fichte & Co is now planning to approach the Khorfakkan court, which it hopes is still holding money recovered from the ship's sale, to enforce the judgement.
"We will be taking the Dubai court's judgement to the Khorfakkan court to recover the salaries. The process could take another couple of months," said Mr Tricoli.
"It is difficult to make a prediction on the time needed for enforcement as the process is influenced by too many variables. Sometimes it happens very fast and sometimes it may take longer."
The sailors hope they will get their dues soon.
"The lawyers are optimistic that we will get our pay," said Navneeth Mani Tripati, 21, who is owed $9,000. "I have faced a lot of financial problems. Things will get better for my family if I can get the money. The other sailors have managed to find good jobs but it hasn't been easy for me."