Thursday, October 29, 2020

Stranded Crews Finally Get to Go Home After Two Vessels Held for Three Months

War, Virus and Arrests Bring Misery to Seafarers
Shipping News Feature

ITALY – AZERBAIJAN – Bad enough to be stranded far from home on a ship in the middle of a pandemic, as so many of the world's seafarers have been, let alone to have the vessel arrested by the authorities, unable to reach your family when your own country was under threat of war. That was the scene for 24 crew stranded in the Port of Ravenna.

The seafarers were crew members on board two vessels, the Maltese-flagged chemical tanker Gobustan, and the general cargo vessel Sultan Bey also registered in Malta. Their ordeal began when the Gobustan was seized where it arrived on 8th July for alleged non-payment by the ship owner to the fuel supplier. The crew were not allowed to get off the ship as they are non-Schengen citizens and subject to Covid-19 restrictions, so the ship was moored at the cruise terminal in Porto Corsini.

Sultan Bey, en route from Istanbul, was also detained by the Italian authorities, after docking at the Ravenna Bulk Terminal, again due to the ship owner’s alleged outstanding debts. At this point in stepped global maritime charity Stella Maris (formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea) and the Ravenna Seafarers' Welfare Committee.

Working together with local organisations to ensure that food, supplies and fresh drinking water was available to the seafarers, Stella Maris in the UK made a grant of £2,000 to its colleagues in Ravenna to help with the purchase of supplies for the men while plans were put in place for the seafarers’ repatriation.

The crew of the Gobustan were repatriated on 3rd and 4th October while the Sultan Bey crew finally went home on 23rd and 24th October. Expressing his thanks to Stella Maris, Carlo Cordone, President of Ravenna’s Seafarers' Welfare Committee said it had been an uphill struggle to get the seafarers repatriated, due to a variety of challenges. These included:-

Air traffic bans due to Covid-19, arranging rapid response tests for the virus for crew members (and getting the results within 12 hours instead of the usual 24 to 48 hours), obtaining an extension from 48 hours to 72 hours of the virus free certificate from the Consul of Azerbaijan for the Azerbaijani crew and getting visa extensions for them.

To add to all this, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia with the high risk of airport closures, and constant concerns for the families of the stranded, made crew repatriation a very difficult and demanding task. Mr Cordone commented:

“This complex job, which led to excellent results and brought us at the side of these seafarers all the time, has been possible thanks to the support of many people involved, who got busy to answer our cry for help right away, thanks to the good spirit of cooperation between companies and institutions typical of our port and thanks to our ability to come together as a team in face of humanitarian emergencies.

“I can assure you that the shiny eyes of those men who had been permitted to go back home at last deeply moved me and paid me back for the huge efforts of the last few months. A heartfelt thanks to everybody!”

Martin Foley, Stella Maris Europe Regional Coordinator said the successful outcome demonstrated the strength of Stella Maris’ network of over 200 chaplains and 700 volunteers in ports all over the world, adding:

“Stella Maris is the world’s largest ship visiting network and these cases show that our presence in ports and ability to work closely with other agencies are vital in ensuring seafarers’ rights are upheld, especially in times of crisis.”

Photo: Main Picture the crew of the Sultan Bey prepare to leave and (inset) the men from the Gobustan finally head for the airport.