Caught between dispute & cash crunch, 2 ships at sea

The 42 people stranded on two tankers in Mumbai's outer anchorage are beginning to show signs of sickness. With the vessels reportedly running low on provisions, the director-general, Shipping, has called the company that owns them for a meeting on Thursday.

There are 29 people on board the Pratibha Tapi, including the master's family. The wife of the captain and two sailors are reported sick. Anchored alongside the Tapi is the Pratibha Indrayani, a few of whose 13 sailors on board have reported sea sickness. Both ships are owned by Pratibha Shipping, which also owned the Pratibha Cauvery, which ran aground off the coast of Chennai during Cyclone Nilam in November 2012.

The Tapi was on its way to be scrapped; the Indrayani has been detained following a six-month-old, $ 400,000 dispute with classification society DNV Classification over another vessel owned by the company, the Pratibha Bheema.

A spokesperson for Pratibha Shipping said DNV Classification had got an court order in its favour and proceeded to "arrest" the Indrayani a fortnight ago. The Indrayani was at the time chartered by Indian Oil Corporation.

"There were 26 crew on board at the time of the arrest," the spokesperson said. "We have got 13 disembarked from the vessel since Sunday. The court order makes it difficult for us to negotiate their release." The crew of the Tapi have apparently not been paid for a month. "We had suggested to them that we would sign them off from the scrapyard. But they are now anchored as there is a shortage of fuel. We cannot clear them till we get a no-objection from the MMD (mercantile marine department) and other shipping bodies for scrapping the ship. The entire thing has become messy," the spokesperson said.

The company allegedly owes Rs 55 lakh to the crew of the Tapi. A company official said the decision to scrap the vessel had been taken due to the severe financial crisis the company has been facing for the last eight months.

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