Friday, March 21, 2008
A crew of 22 Indian nationals have been stuck on board a ship in Singapore waters since January, locked in a wage dispute with the vessel's owners. They claim its Greek owners owe them about US$100,000 (S$138,000) in wages. The cargo ship has also been detained by the Singapore authorities for not being 'seaworthy'. The order against Lady Belinda was made 10 days ago by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). When The Straits Times went on board the ship yesterday, its crew were angry and resentful. Some complained of being unable to visit sick family members at home. One of them said his wife needed surgery, while another said his mother was in a coma. Meanwhile, engineer Sheikh Yakub, 28, has had to postpone his wedding which had been planned for Feb28. 'I wasted US$2,000 on the preparations,' he said. The Lady Belinda, registered in North Korea, had set sail last December from India with 16,300 tonnes of iron ore for China. En route, its engine broke down and it was towed to Singapore for repairs. It arrived here on Jan 14.
The 22-man crew of Lady Belinda have been embroiled in a $140,000 wage dispute with the vessel's owners since January. The ship has also been detained by the Singapore authorities.Since then, its crew have been fighting for their pay: about US$500 a month for a seaman and between US$1,800 and US$4,500 for an officer. Last month, they asked the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union for help to recover what they claim was four months of unpaid wages totalling US$109,550. Said ship captain Victor Velogaleti, 60: 'Every day, we're asking. The owners say, 'Next week, money will be in your hands'. But until today, there's still no salary.' When contacted, the ship's manager in Greece said wages had not been paid for the 'last two months' and that they would be 'paid soon'. In an e-mail to The Straits Times yesterday, the managing director of Blue Fleet Management, Mr Roy Khoury, said the owners owe his company over US$2million and it was 'no longer willing to advance more funds' on their behalf.He added that the vessel's rear is under repair. Welders were seen yesterday working on a hole just above the water line. On the reason for detaining the ship, the MPA said it had failed to pass a safety inspection. Its spokesman told The Straits Times: 'The ship's agent was informed. It would need to ensure that all outstanding deficiencies are rectified and a follow-up inspection conducted, before the detention can be lifted.' Lady BelindaThe agent here is Sinoda Shipping Agency. On average, about 40 ships are detained yearly for various deficiencies, the MPA spokesman added. Meanwhile, the crew of Lady Belinda have sought legal advice to arrest the ship should the owners fail to pay. The issue is not a first for Lady Belinda. India's Centre for Seafarers Welfare reported that it had been detained in India last January after its crew of 20 from Myanmar and Egypt said they were owed several months of wages. The centre said it managed to get the owners to pay the wages. The Singapore Maritime Officers' Union hopes for a similar outcome. President Robin Foo, who visited the ship yesterday with donations of rice, vegetables and cans of Coca-Cola, said: 'We're doing this as a maritime union and for the brotherhood of seafarers.' Maritime lawyers here said it was uncommon for crew to be owed wages as the shipping business is booming. But it is cold comfort for ship fitter Sanker Patel, 54. His wife, who is hospitalised in Mumbai, needs surgery on her womb. 'She is in pain but the doctors will not operate without my signature,' he said tearfully.