| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

Abandoned seafarers in Kuwait enter eleventh week of hunger strike

AL Arabiya:

In Kuwait, 19 seafarers stuck on board an abandoned cargo vessel have entered their eleventh week of a hunger strike in protest over unpaid wages backdated for more than a year.

For many, they have spent more than two years onboard the vessel M/V Ula. Most have the crew have about 17 months of pay owed to them, they claim.

Speaking onboard the vessel, the crew told Al Arabiya English they began a hunger strike 78 days ago while they battle to get their money back from the ship’s owner, in the hope it will raise attention to their plight.

The sailors vowed not to eat solid food until their ordeal is addressed, and they are given their outstanding wages – which for many run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The vessel is currently docked at Shuaiba Port, but the sailors have remained onboard. They fear that if they leave, they will never receive their unpaid salaries.

As their hunger strike heightens, one of the crew members, Bhanu Shakar Panda, says morale is “worsening every day.”

“We are now feeling very tired mentally and also physically tired,” said Panda, of India, who desperately wants to return home to his wife and 13-year-son. “We are feeling very, very weak now.”

“Everyone on board has lost almost 5kg in weight. More than tired, is that we are feeling frustrated. This is a very difficult situation for us.

“We have never expected a situation like this and we are very frustrated. We have spent more than two years on board. We are 100 per cent totally exhausted.”

Panda said the crew had “no option” but to go on hunger strike.”

“We hadn’t been paid in so long and we e just didn’t know what else to do.”

Hope had risen for the sailors in February.

As the boat was carrying cargo consisting of concrete, a promised auction hoped to generate money to pay their outstanding wages.

But as the auction fell through, the crew are still waiting for a solution.

With the sailors predominately from India, and some crew members from Turkey and Azerbaijan, their families are dependent on their salaries to live, but many have run into debt.

Human rights activist Shaheen Sayyed works to help stranded Indians in foreign countries.

She has been working with authorities to pursue the monies owed to the sailors.

“The situation is very bad, they have been stuck in limbo for more than a year,” she said. “They are in dispute with the owner from Qatar, whose company has gone bankrupt.”

Globally, hundreds of seafarers are currently stuck onboard vessels when their ships’ owners run out of money.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labor Organization estimate that since 2004, more than 5,000 seafarers are recorded as being abandoned.

Sailors who leave their ships in these circumstances risk never being paid so often remain on the vessels awaiting resolutions.