Ever Given crew should not be hostages in a legal war

Too often crew are used as a pawn in a legal chess match between owners and authorities. Sometimes that can lead to seafarers being stranded, sometimes for years, as with Mohammad Aisha, through no fault of their own. It is clear that the maritime community must stand in solidarity with these crew who are denied their rights, writes Nick Savvides.

This week a seafarer went home. This should not be the subject of great wonder, but this particular sailor had been held in effective captivity for four years aboard a ship that he had worked on but did not own.

On 22 April the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) announced his departure from a ship that had been detained by Egyptian authorities due to expired certification for safety equipment, and the owner duly abandoned the vessel and its crew.

An Egyptian court then designated Mohammad Aisha, the chief officer who had been on board for just two months, as the legal guardian of the vessel until the ship was sold or another guardian was found. That was in 2017, by 2019 the rest of the crew had been repatriated.

Last year a storm saw the ship run aground and with no power and an infestation of insects and rats, conditions on board and the Aisha’s own condition were deteriorating fast. Finally after four years, the irony of Aisha’s release at the very time that the Egyptian authorities had impounded the Ever Given cannot be lost on the container ship’s Indian crew.

So while Mohammad Aisha boarded an airplane to return to home to Syria, ending a four-year battle where he was forced to live on an abandoned ship in the Suez Canal while the vessel waited to be sold, the crew of the Ever Given are beginning their own possible isolation in the Great Bitter Lake.

Clearly there are major differences in the two events. Few people had heard of the MV Aman, Aisha’s ship until recently. The defects on the vessel drew little response from the international media and Aisha’s predicament had received little or no publicity until recent reports from the ITF highlighted his plight. In contrast the Ever Given was widely reported as one of the world’s most important waterways was blocked for six days, with the fear that it could take weeks or months to refloat the vessel.

It is important now that as the media attention turns away from the critical globally significant event that the crew are not abandoned to a similar fate that befell Mohammad Aisha.

Abdulgani Serang, of the National Union of Seafarers of India an ITF affiliate has been in contact with the crew, who are employed by the technical manager Bernard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), believes that the crew will be exonerated of any blame for the accident.