Maputo — The foreign crew of a tugboat in the central Mozambican port of Beira have threatened to blow the tug up and commit mass suicide, unless they are paid wage arrears amounting to 50,000 US dollars, reports Tuesday's issue of the independent daily “O Pais”.
The tug flies the Tanzanian flag but its owner is from the United Arab Emirates and lives in Iran. The crew consists of two Indians, an Iranian, a Syrian and a Bangladeshi.
Cited by the paper, the tug's captain, Mahell Sararuth, admitted leaving South Africa illegally at the beginning of this year. “We fled from the port of Durban, under instructions from the owner, because we had not complied with all the steps to clear the tug for departure”, he said. “We were told to go to Tanzania but, a few days later we received instructions to enter Mozambican ports”.
The owner said he had signed a contract with Mozambique's National Institute of Hydrography (INAHINA) to repair buoys in the ports of Maputo, Beira and Quelimane.
The crew worked on the buoys in the three ports, “and we know that our employer has already been paid by INAHINA”, said Sararuth.
But the tug suffered a breakdown and has been in Beira for the past two months. The captain accused the owner of abandoning the crew. “He hasn't paid us our wages for almost a year, and we have survived thanks to support from the maritime police”, said Sararuth. “On the day the police are unable to support us, we will go hungry”.
The Sofala provincial maritime administrator, Antonio Vilanculos, has demanded a solution to the problem by Tuesday, otherwise he will take legal measures.
A representative of the owner has travelled to Beira from Iran, and on Monday Vilanculos met with him, Sararuth and the ship's agent. The meeting was short, since Vilanculos simply ordered the owner's representative to pay the wage arrears.
The representative wanted the crew to sign new contracts, but the crew have refused, and simply want their back wages paid.
Vilanculos warned that “if by Tuesday, they have not paid the wages and guaranteed the return of the crew to their countries of origin, then there is nothing more we can do but activate other mechanisms. Mozambique is a member of the International Maritime Organisation and there are rules that govern this sort of case”.
He also pointed out that the only reason the tug had been allowed to stay in Beira was that the crew had alleged health problems.