KOTA KINABALU: Ten foreign crewmen stranded in a faulty vessel with limited food, water and electricity supply since August in waters off Pulau Gaya near here were finally able to see improvements in living condition beginning with New Year’s Day.
The 2,500-tonne cargo vessel was tugged to the Sabah Ports Jetty here on Dec 31 after persistent efforts from various non-governmental organisations and individuals to highlight the plilght of the crew.
The crewmen, comprising eight Indians, a Pakistani and a Maldivian, could be heard shouting with joy as the ship slowly crept into the jetty in the evening.
Crew leader Khurshid Iqbal, who is from Pakistan, said it was a very happy day for all of them.
“It felt like we were just given back our freedom,” said a choking Khurshid as he thanked harbour master Salim Baee and his men from the Sabah Ports and Harbours Department (JPDS).
With the ship berthing there, the crew now have electricity and are assured of food and water supply.
Khurshid said although they had yet to get their salary, nor were they able to go to land due to not having their passports with them, things were much better for all of them.
“Our passports are being kept by Immigration Department for investigation, and the owner has yet to pay us since we arrived in August,” he said.
After their plight was highlighted in the media, the owner, who kept their passports and deposit money, reportedly agreed to pay what was due to them.
However, no money has been deposited into their accounts so far.
“We don’t know why he (owner) is doing this to us,” Khurshid said.
He, however, said they were still hoping for good news within the next few days as the non-governmental organisation and individuals helping them were pushing the owner to pay up.
Harbour master Salim said he had to tug the vessel to the jetty despite not having gotten the green light from the owner to ensure the safety of the crew and locals living in nearby water villages.
“The vessel went dark when the generator set went out of fuel four days ago, and there was no sign of the owner wanting to refuel,” he said.
“As there is no light on the ship, it was at risk of getting hit by other vessels or boats at night,” Salim said, adding the ship had only one anchor left to hold itin place.
He said if the anchor broke, the ship could drift and crash into the hundreds of houses at the water village nearby.
Efforts from The Star to contact the owner remains futile as he refuses to answer calls or messages.
With the vessel now at the jetty, it is learnt that the owner will have to fork out between RM1,000 and RM3,000 a day for the berthing fee.
The plight of the crew first came to light in November after Khurshid reached out to media personnel.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sabah chapter, Sabah Environment Protection Association (SEPA) and several other individuals then took up the case and immediately started pressuring the authorities and the shipowner to pay their salaries and return their documents.
They finally succeeded in pressuring the owner to bring the crew to a hospital a few days later for a check-up.
The Immigration Department also stepped in and managed to recover the crewmen’s passports and seamen documents from the shipowner’s agent in Kolombong, Inanam.
However, the shipowner doesn't appear willing to budge on their salaries and did not even turn up for a meeting with the Labour Department set for Dec 26.