In February, the Indonesian Navy boarded several Indian ships after they strayed into territorial waters.

86 Indian seamen detained in Indonesia for five months seek help from govt
news Shipping Friday, July 19, 2019 - 15:26

A group of Indian seamen stand aboard ship, grim expressions etched on their faces, a photo shows. For over five months, 86 Indian crew members have been detained for anchoring in Indonesian waters. Holding signs that read, “Please help us” and “We are not criminals,” the men aboard the MT (Motor Tanker) SG Pegasus, as well as four other ships, are now calling for attention from Indian authorities and the media after being repeatedly ignored by Indonesian officials over pleas for their release.

Between February 8th and 9th, eight ships, including the MT (Motor Tanker) SG Pegasus, had anchored east of the Singapore straits on EOPL (Easter-Outer-Port-Limit) waters awaiting further orders from charterers, companies that booked their services. “The sea boundaries of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are very close to each other. Since it was too crowded on the north side, we moved the ship to east of EOPL, as I felt that this position was falling within international waters. But I was unaware of the fact that this position also fell within the territorial baseline of the state of Indonesia,” Captain Lawrence A D’Souza, master of the crew told TNM in a phone interview.

In subsequent days, the ships were boarded by the Indonesian Navy, who informed them that they did not have a permit to be in the Indonesian waters and would be liable for prosecution. “They ordered us to proceed to the closest Indonesian port,” D’Souza said. The Indonesian authorities detained the sailors, along with MT (Motor Tanker) SG Pegasus, alleging that it was illegally anchoring in territorial waters. 

“The Indonesian Navy personnel had also seized their vessel’s trading certificates as the ship proceeded to Batam, Indonesia. The authorities have kept the ship at Tanjung Uban Anchorage since February 9th,” said Moosa Kunhi, a crew member. Moosa is one of five detained members of the crew who are natives of Kerala. 

Three of the eight ships that were detained have already been released, but five remain detained by Indonesian authorities. Initially there were 23 Indian crew members on board the SG Pegasus at the time of detention. Indonesian authorities allowed one of the members, Awadhesh Kumar Yadav, to fly back to India on February 10th, after he was hospitalised due to uncontrolled diabetes and abnormal pain. 

The 86 crew members are still under detention by the Indonesian Navy even after several months of continuous efforts by the shipping company, the Ministry of External Affairs (India) and the Indian Embassy in Indonesia. “They can keep the ship, but why are we being treated as criminals? Why are we not allowed to go home? There is no meaning in detaining us like this,” Moosa said.

The Indian Ambassador to Indonesia, Indian Foreign Officer (IFS) Pradeep Kumar Rawat, along with other Indian Naval and embassy officials visited the vessel on May 24th at Tanjung Uban anchorage and assured the ship members that they would keep working to secure their release. However, efforts to obtain the release of the ship and crew have remained unsuccessful, as Indonesian authorities have said the matter is under the purview of the Indonesian judiciary. 

“While all the necessary documents have been provided to Indonesian authorities (including Navy) by the local agents, the Navy hasn't responded to the permission [request] for ‘crew change’ on June 20, 2019, because the Navy had handed over the matter to the local prosecutor and the case at Batan in Indonesia,” according to an official from shipping management service, Anglo-Eastern, a leading global provider of ship management services. 

The ship owners have now appointed a law firm in Jakarta to represent the owners and crew in all further proceedings, including permission for crew change, delays or postponement of proceedings. As of July 15th, the case was still not heard. “We have repeatedly filed our application for release, however the Indonesian authorities are consistently denying it,” Moosa said.

“Criminal charges are being put on the master of the vessel and its crew. With the judicial system in Indonesia, no one is sure how long they will be detained. Families of the crew like me haven’t seen them in months. Each time my brother calls and tells that the Indonesian Navy, public prosecutor and the immigration authorities pass the buck, citing one problem or the other for withholding their release,” Moosa’s brother Majid, a former seaman, said.

The crew has also tweeted allegations of bribery and corruption among the Indonesian authorities who have prevented their release. “The main reason for non-cooperation of Indonesian authorities is that they need money as bribe, that too in crores of rupees, which our owner and company are not ready to pay,” a crew member, who did not wish to be named, alleged.

He further alleged that while eight ships were detained on February 9th, three of them have already gotten out since their parent companies and owners have paid the bribe. According to  the Anglo-Eastern company official, including the crew member of SG Pegasus, Indonesian authorities have detained 86 Indian crew members from MV Win Win, MT Afra Oak, MT Bliss, MT Agros – between February 8th to February 12th this year, on similar charges of anchoring in Indonesian waters.

“This was told to us by the crew members of the same ships, but three ships are remaining and our company and owner are not ready to pay bribe, therefore Indonesian authorities are not ready to heed to our repatriation procedure,” the crew member requesting anonymity alleged. 

In an appeal to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the crew members said that some of them were on an extended period of contract. ‘They (crew) are mentally and physically tired and scared. Few of the crew members have medical emergencies and aged parents at home requiring their presence. Families are also very much concerned about our wellbeing and fate. Several crew members had given letters to concerned authorities stating various medical problems faced by them or their families for which they require immediate release and repatriation. However, there has been no positive response from the Indonesian authorities,” the crew wrote to Prime Minister of India.

The crew was also informed by the legal counsellors that if they get permission to return home, it will be done by stamping their passport with a deportation stamp. “It would be a big problem for the sailors, as we wouldn’t be allowed on the Indonesian waters again and that’s a negative impact on their jobs and livelihood,” Moosa said.

On July 1st, twitter user Aimen Mohammed had tweeted, ““Indian seamen arrested by indonesian navy are suffering from past 5 months. No help from govt or the owners. No repatriation, No food. VESSEL is SG Pegasus. Company : Anglo Eastern Ship Mgt.”  The tweet included an image of the seamen holding placards that said “Save us,” “Want to go home,” “Please help,” and “Family is waiting.” 

The tweet was addressed to V Muraleedharan, Minister of State for External Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, who is the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister of India, along with a few news channels.

V Muraleedharan responded to this tweet saying, “Our Embassy in Jakarta  @IndianEmbJkt is already working on early resolution of this case with the Indonesian authorities.”

He further went on to post the following tweets, “Investigation in MV Pegasus case has been completed by the Indonesian authorities and the final decision of the Prosecutor is awaited” and “The Government of India stands behind the Indian crew members and is making all efforts for their early repatriation.”

The Indian embassy at Jakarta on July 2nd tweeted, “Secretary (CPV & OIA) took up the issue of repatriation of Indian crew members onboard commercial vessel detained in Indonesia and requested for their urgent release at the commencement of the 1st India Indonesia Consular Dialogue in Yogyakarta today.”

On July 15, Gaurav Dhoundiyal, serving as third officer on MT Pegasus, tweeted, “HELP HELP..!! Indonesian authorities holding vessel and crew at Ransom.. 5.5 months and counting..No humanity...Under house arrest. Pls help us where is our indian government ??”

He also posted photographs of his crew members holding placards that said “We are mariners not criminals,” “Please help us, we want to go home. Families are waiting, ”“Five months, still counting, by Indionesian Navy, Please Release,”We are not criminals, don’t treat us like that,” and  “We have a medical emergency back home, family is waiting for us. Is there any justice left?”

Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)


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