Don’t Know How Long It’ll Take: Indian Sailor Stuck in Suez Canal
The Quint speaks to Anurag Chaudhary, a maritime officer onboard one of the ships stuck due to Suez Canal blockage.
Suez Canal, one of the busiest waterways in the world, was blocked last week when a 400-metre-long, 224,000-tonne ship named ‘Ever Given’ – one of the largest container ships in the world – got stuck, causing a huge jam of vessels at the vital trade artery.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it had lost control amid high winds and a dust storm.
With the ship having run aground, leaving the artificial canal choked, many other cargo vessels – carrying everything, from crude oil to consumer goods – have been blocked from passing through the waterway.
Reports say that more than 150 vessels are now blocked, with hundreds more headed towards the Suez Canal.
The Quint spoke to Chief Officer Anurag Chaudhary, a maritime officer currently onboard a ship bound for the Red Sea, which is now stuck in the blocked waterway. Only once the ‘Ever Given’ is re-floated will the other ships be able to move, he said.
Many Difficulties Involved, Not a Normal Grounding
When asked about the situation in the Suez Canal at the moment, Chaudhary said, “We are trying to stay in touch with local agents at the moment. But there has been no significant development as of now.”
He told The Quint that two to three dredgers, one of which is a prominent company, have been pressed into action to re-float the grounded ship, but stressed that there are many difficulties involved.
“Unfortunately, this is not a normal grounding. The ship is badly stranded on the banks. Effort for re-floatation of the vessel have no been successful,” he added.
According to Chaudhary, the main hurdle in the process of re-floatation is that the ship is very large in size – 400 metres in length – whereas the canal itself is only 205 metres wide.
“Another thing is that this happened due to a sudden gust of wind, which made the ship uncontrollable and led to its stranding. This was an emergency. But it could have been prevented by stopping the vessel and waiting for the gust to pass, before resuming passage. But that didn't happen,” he said.
Long Wait to Return Home
Chaudhary told The Quint that the ship he is onboard has been stuck in the Suez Canal for more than a week.
“We departed on 9 March. We left the Damietta port, located in Egypt, on 19 March and on 20 March, we came to know about the grounding of the ship,” he said.
Asked how long it would be before the canal is cleared, Chaudhary said that the Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabie, has said that the process should be completed within the next two days.
But he isn’t very optimistic.
“As of now, whatever efforts have been made have not been successful. We can only wish and be prepared,” he said.
Blow for Stranded Seafarers
While Chaudhary said there is no panic aboard his ship yet, the crew certainly feels that their movement has been restricted. This feeling is compounded by the fact that the contracts of those onboard have expired.
“Because we already went through this pandemic and those days it wasn’t possible to be home, some seafarers have been on board for nine or 10 months or even a year,” he said.
“As far as seafarers are considered, they have been neglected by all parties. Sometimes when things affect trade and commerce, then they realise that it is affecting us. When they see that trade and commerce are not affected, they don't consider the humanitarian aspects,” he rued.
Chaudhary stressed that the seafarers now simply want to return home after completing their work.
The worst part, he said, is that the other parties involved do not care and are not taking the issue seriously .“We are the most important link to making the trade and commerce possible.”
Chaudhary, who himself has been aboard the ship for five months, said that he has been able to touch base with his family and appraise them of his situation.
“I spoke to my family, I let them know. They know that this is something which is not in our hands. So, they are just waiting, hoping that since this is an international issue, other parties will help.”Chief Officer Anurag Chaudhary
No Help From Indian Govt
When asked if they had received any help from the Indian government, Chaudhary said nothing official had been communicated so far.
“Our companies are in talks with the local agents, but they said that they are helpless. We don't know how long will it take,” he said, adding that he is doing all he can to stay updated about the status of the ‘Ever Given’.
“I can see on my navigation screen that the ship is still there,” he said, adding that his ship is 20 nautical miles away from the ‘Ever Given’.
Chaudhary could not provide an estimate about how many Indians could be stuck in the waterways, but said there were around 130 ships stranded in total.
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