In a harrowing ordeal, nine members of a cargo ship crew, including five Indians, have been stranded on their vessel outside Pakistan's Karachi port for over a year as they have yet to be paid their dues totalling around USD 300,000.
Apart from the Indians, the crew includes four Pakistani nationals, two people from Myanmar and one each from Sudan and Kenya.
"We have been lucky because we can embark the ship and come and go as we please as we are Pakistani nationals," Muhammad Reza, a member of the crew, told news agency PTI.
Mr Reza is among the Pakistanis who were also on the cargo ship 'MV Mishki' sailing under a Panama flag when it anchored outside Karachi in August, 2017.
"Since that time the ship has been here with cargo as the crew members have still not been paid their dues which comes to about USD 300,000," Mr Reza said.
Ironically the stand-off persists despite the Sindh High Court recently passing an order that the cargo agent, a Pakistani national in Karachi, must make arrangements to pay off the dues to allow the crew members to return to their homes.
"These nine people including the five Indians are surviving in very poor conditions. Despite the court order the dues have not been cleared as yet and we will be filing a petition again in the court on Monday," said activist Ansar Burney of the Burney Welfare Trust.
Mr Burney has been in touch with the ship crew since last year and said the owner is Somalian and his offices are in Dubai but he has been out of reach so far. "I have personally called him several times and sent him messages but he is not responding," Mr Burney said.
The ship sailed first from Karachi to Dubai to drop off some cargo last year then picked up more cargo to drop off in Karachi and then in Somalia. "The problem arose when we reached Karachi port and anchored here and even unloaded half of the cargo. But we did not move on to Somalia because of the payment issues," Mr Reza recalled.
He said it was true that the crew had refused to leave the ship until they were paid by the owner or agent.
"How can you expect these people to return to their homes empty-handed. One of the Indian nationals has a cancer patient at home. They have made it clear they will not leave the ship until they get their money," Mr Burney said.
He said the Sindh High Court had ordered that the agent sell off the ship and clear the dues.
"The ship also is now in bad shape. It is tough on these people as they don't have visas and cannot even leave the ship and come ashore. A representative of the Indian High Commission visited them once but after that I don't know what happened," Mr Burney said.
The crew members are now surviving by selling some cargo and ship parts or on donations from the Burney's trust for their daily food, medical and generator fuel expenses.
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