Lankan ship stuck in Sudan; crew in distress

By Leon Berenger

A Sri Lankan cargo vessel has been denied entry to a Sudanese port for non-payment of dues and the crew are facing a terrible tragedy with food and drinking water fast running out, a senior official of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said yesterday.

The ‘Lanka Mahapola’ the only remaining vessel owned by the Ceylon Shipping Corporation has remained in anchorage off harbour since November five after it was refused entry to berth at the Sudan port, the ITF local representative, Ranjan Perera said.

According to preliminary investigations it has been found that the company that charted the vessel from the CSC has delayed in settling the dues at the Sudan Port, such as bunkering, tug and berth charges.
“The amount due is about US$ 40,000, but the company has only sent half this amount and therefore it has led to the present crisis,” Mr. Perera said.

He said their main concern now was for the stranded Sri Lankan crew, whose living conditions had worsened over the past two weeks with each of them getting only a mug of drinking water a day. “Sea water is being used for other purposes and food is largely confined to plain rice and salted fish,” Mr. Perera said.

In addition he said he had learnt that the crew had not been paid their wages for the past four months, and that the chief engineer had suffered a heart attack and was left without proper medical attention. Several other crew members were also mentally traumatized as the crisis continued without a solution in sight. Mr. Perera said the ITF had taken up the matter with the shipping company, and other maritime officials in Colombo, and urged them to act urgently to settle the crisis.

Palitha Athokorale, President of the National Union of Seaferers Sri Lanka (NUSS), said they were alerted to the crisis on the Lanka Mahapola after an SOS was sent out from the vessel. “We are addressing this matter with utmost seriousness, and we are in touch with our foreign principles and the local authorities. The shipping company must take the responsibility, and ensure the safety of the crew,” Mr. Athukorale said.

A top official with the S.S.S. Shipping that has charted the vessel said the crisis had begun after the vessel could not enter the Sudan port since it was closed for the recent Hajj holidays. S.S.S. Shipping Director M. Mahanage conceded that there was also a default in payment but added that half the required sum had already been sent to the handling agent in Dubai and things should be cleared by tomorrow.

He also said the back wages of the crew would be settled once the cargo on board the vessel was discharged at the port and the dues for it collected. “There is no real worry here, things should be ok in a day or two,” Captain Mahanage said.

Meanwhile Merchant Shipping Director General A. W. H. S. S. R. Weerakoon said it was up to the shipping company to get its act together.

He warned that if the vessel lost its steam owing to the lack of fuel it could drift into open seas and even bang against the reef and become disabled. This would result in a huge loss to the CSC. Meanwhile, the ship’s Third Officer, K. C. Hettiarachchi, told the Sunday Times via telephone yesterday: “The situation is going from bad to worse. We are down on drinking water and the fuel stocks have hit rock bottom.”

He said the Chief Engineer was suffering from repeated chest pains, and that several members of the crew were mentally depressed as the crisis continued. “There are no proper medical facilities available on board and the authorities at the Sudan Port are not cooperative,” he said.

He said to save on fuel the generators are switched on only for a few hours at night, so that phone batteries could be re-charged and other essential accessories activated.

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