A Sri Lankan shipping company that leased Sri Lanka’s only cargo vessel, the Lankan Mahaphola, which is currently detained in Durban Harbour over a wage dispute and safety regulations, has agreed to pay the disgruntled 26-man crew.
Durban attorney Nalini Maharaj, who is acting on behalf of the owner of Triple S Shipping, a Dr Sanjaya, told the Daily News on Tuesday that the wage dispute would be settled and criminal charges against 13 of the crew members would be withdrawn by today.
The 13 men were arrested at the weekend for allegedly stealing scrap metal from the ship. The desperate crew members had told their lawyer, Struan Mundell, that it was common practice to sell the ship’s scrap metal, with the captain’s permission, in order to make some pocket money.
The crew had claimed they were owed wages totalling $85 000 (R708 900) for approximately three months, and had been working in poor conditions on board the vessel.
They alerted the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which led to a Durban High Court order for a maritime lien – the attachment of a ship as property in lieu of debt.
Triple S Shipping leased the ship from its Sri Lankan owner, Ceylon Shipping Corporation, which had been quoted in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times newspaper as saying that Triple S Shipping was responsible for the crew and the cargo on board.
The Daily News on Tuesday reported that the ship had been detained in Durban Harbour since its arrival on May 17. The South African Maritime Safety Authority officials were on board the ship on Monday night when they too detained the ship for not adhering to international safety standards.
The authority’s CEO, Sobantu Tilayi, had said the vessel was in a very bad state and did not have valid certifications. He also said there was a big hole on the bow of the vessel and that the vessel would not be allowed to leave the harbour until it had complied with international safety standards.
The crew had claimed they were at sea for 20 days without electricity to power the ship’s lights.
Mundell, a South African maritime lawyer who is acting on behalf of the federation and the crew, said the men had complained to him that it had been an ordeal, including the ship having drifted at sea while they were trying to repair an engine.
The federation’s local representative, Sprite Zungu, said held a meeting with Sanjaya, the crew and the captain. He said Sanjaya had agreed to settle and pay the crew’s wages.
“They have to pay and repatriate the crew. The biggest problem is paying the crew,” he said. “Once this is done, the owner would have to try to negotiate a contract with the crew to sail back home with the ship. I have also told them to withdraw the criminal charges against the crew.”
Speaking on behalf of Triple S Shipping, Maharaj confirmed that the company had agreed to pay the crew’s wages, but was yet to decide when it would do so because of the amount of money involved. Maharaj said it might either be paid into the crew members’ bank accounts in Sri Lanka or paid to them directly in Durban.
“The reason the wages were not paid is that the ship was sailing for two months in international waters where there was no communication,” she said. “They would have been paid… (when) they arrived at their first port, which was Durban.”
Regarding the criminal charges, Maharaj said the ship and its crew were served with letters by the sheriff of the court when the vessel was detained on May 17.
She said the letter had made it clear that the ship and its contents belonged to the sheriff and could not be removed without his authority, hence the charges when the crew sold the scrap metal.
“This will all be settled amicably and the criminal charges should be withdrawn by (today),” Maharaj said. (Daily News-Durban)