Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

Stranded sailors require long-term support

Captain Swaminathan's horrific ordeal did not end once he was rescued and back on land

Capt Ayyappan Swaminathan at home in India with his wife Menaga and daughter Aniha. Courtesy Mission to Seafarers
Capt Ayyappan Swaminathan at home in India with his wife Menaga and daughter Aniha. Courtesy Mission to Seafarers

It is extraordinary that today, a legal dispute can strand 10 sailors for almost two years, just six nautical miles out to sea. And yet, the story of Captain Ayyappan Swaminathan and his nine crewmates is alarmingly common. Mr Swaminathan has now returned to his native India after resolving a dispute over 18 months of unpaid wages with his employer, the Dubai-based Elite Way Marine Services. Short of food – and hope – and lacking the permits necessary to bring their ship to port, the crew appealed desperately for help, regularly posting about their plight on social media, but to little avail.

This is a moment to celebrate the emancipation of Mr Swaminathan and his colleagues and to spare a thought for others still left adrift. The coast guard was recently forced to turn back four sailors marooned on another Elite Way vessel, after they attempted to illegally abandon it and escape on a lifeboat. Certainly, an unmanned ship is a risk in busy international waters. But companies should ensure that their employees do not face such a plight.

Once back on land, Mr Swaminathan’s problems did not end. As The National reported, he has struggled to readjust since his rescue in June. “I have had a lot of difficulties trying to recover my family back to a normal situation,” he said. With Mr Swaminathan not around, and no salary coming in, his wife and children have endured two years of hardship. Mr Swaminathan and his crew had few options but to accept a settlement far less than what they were owed. As a result, Mr Swaminathan’s livelihood lies in tatters and it will take him years to recover from the psychological, financial and physical consequences of his ordeal.

Mr Swaminathan is lucky to be free and back with his family, but he must now rebuild his life from scratch and contend with the knock-on effects of his confinement on the open waters. Stranded sailors do not simply need aid packages of food and water to be dropped off by charitable organisations while they are out at sea, but long-term financial and psychological support after their nightmarish ordeal.

Updated: July 3, 2019 05:56 PM

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