3 September 2020
“This is very unfair. This is very unjust.”
“We the seafarers are a lifeline to keep the sea lanes and the global supply chains moving on.”
“We are the ones who stay away from families. We are human. We have feelings.”
London. UK. Former Master of the MV Tomini Destiny, Captain Rajnish Samuel Shah, has authorised the release by Human Rights at Sea of his personal testimony in defence of his command decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic for the protection the health, safety and security of his crew during unloading operations off the Port of Chittagong, Bangladesh in late March 2020.
The vessel is flagged to the Republic of the Marshal Islands (RMI), owners are Tomini Transports LLC and the charterers at the time of the case were Western Bulk Carriers A/S.
The case has been covered by Human Rights at Sea in its initial highlighting on 1 April 2020 of the case following allegations by the crew of harassment by the owners, and subsequently on 5 April 2020 of the actions by the Master. The case has also been covered extensively by maritime and international media.
The charity remains closely engaged in supporting Captain Shah in the subsequent handling of his case by the flag State following an unwarranted three-headed complaint which has seen the Master’s Republic of the Marshall Islands seafarer documents suspended as of 8 June 2020 after a complaint by the vessel’s owners.
Captain Shah has been informed that: “You may not serve in any capacity on board a Republic of the Marshall Islands-registered ship while your seafarer documentation is suspended.”
Nearly three months later, Captain Shah has been left in professional limbo with a lack of response from the RMI Maritime Adminstrator, despite submitting a comprehensive and evidenced response refuting all allegations raised and which have been seen by Human Rights at Sea.
The charity has written to the Administrator requesting an expedited response. It has also raised the issue that Captain Shah arguably has effectively been blacklisted by default in the absence of a response and final decision.
Captain Shah has now voluntarily determined that his case should be publicised as a warning to other Masters taking command decisions in protecting their crew, particular during the COVID-19 pandemic and which could be at odds to an owner’s commercial decisions and intent.
“Respected Maritime Authorities, Governmental and non-governmental organisations looking after seafarer’s welfare worldwide, Seafarers, and my dear friends, I am Captain Rajnish Samuel Shah the ex-Master of M/V Tomini Destiny and we signed off with 9 crew members on 29th April 2020 at Port of Kochi, India.
I need to put the facts… which are regarding the events which transpired for our sign off, as well as the larger concerns for seafarers during the course of the pandemic who are being signed off right now. Tomini Transports LLC is a ownership company owned by Imitiaz Shaikh who is a Pakistani national, the company operates from the UAE as the head office, and it has a manning office, Tomini Shipping Limited, in Mumbai, India.
Now, during our period from March, mid-March 2020, our sign-off date, we raised concerns regarding the growing situation of Corona virus pandemic while the vessel was to call the Port of Chittagong. We raised our issues to owners, Tomini Transport, and unfortunately the response we got was not quite expected. The owners refused to hear our concerns, in fact, they went ahead to threaten the crew members indirectly and directly. They gave calls to the next of kin in India telling them that the crew members will face a situation of arrest, sent WhatsApp messages to respective crew members regarding employment future and what lies ahead if they do not discharge immediately whilst the vessel arrives at the Port of Chittagong. Having said that, we took our due diligence. We asked the agents regarding the measures in place; view there was a Corona virus scare around the world; lockdowns had been called in India, likewise in Bangladesh.
The vessel arrived at the Port of Chittagong on the 28th March and we raised our concerns on the 30th to the Flag State, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and kept our Indian Authorities, Director of General Shipping, as well as we went back to Ministry of Internal Affairs, Maritime Unions, and we raised this matter that we are being harassed to discharge with no plan and there is a reasonable exposure to Coronavirus since there will be 60-70 crew members, Stevedores who will be interacting with crew members on the period of 15-20 days on the anchorage. Now it was confirmed by the agent Stevedores boarding us will be unscreened, there would be no medical checks on them, and the vessel needs to carry their own checks, which was totally unacceptable. Since the owners turned a blind eye, Mr John Ramage of Republic of Marshall Islands was to mediate the talk between how to go about and resolve this issue while the crew members, and then as a Master, we put forward a plan which minimized the risk and we asked for a very reasonable arrangement which was practicably possible, but not acceptable to the owners.
We stuck to our point. In the meantime, the owners continued with their harassment. They kept on sending WhatsApp messages to the crew, they were frequent, very often there was a call to me telling me about the consequences, what I’ll likely face as a Master. The CEO went ahead and told me our services were terminated with immediate effect if we don’t adhere to the owners’ instructions and likewise disruption of communications onboard of the ship. The internet connections were taken off, the communication – official communication – were put off. These matters were put to the mediating representative of Republic of Marshall Islands, while the mail was also addressed to the Republic of Marshall Islands regarding the harassment we were under. Finally, once the union,Stevedore union gave way, the owners did agree. And we discharged the vessel taking full responsibility and safely. Completed our operations on the 19th April.
Having said that, once the vessel had arrived at the Port of Chittagong, there were 9 crew members who were overdue for relief prior to arrival but it was important for us to go through the discharge process and we didn’t raise any concerns for our sign-offs. But we did mention that after discharge the overdue crew members would like to sign off since the Vessel is within the Indian coast.
On the 21st April, as per Director of General Shipping, the SOPs were approved by Ministry of Home Affairs, and we requested the owners – since we had finished discharge – the vessel to be diverted to an Indian Port as Indian crew members can be reasonably signed off by making arrangements. Now, the owners had instructed the vessel to proceed to GALLE, go through an in-water survey, and then proceed to Durban for re-delivery. The next tentative employment was East Coast of South America.
Having said that, the in-water survey was scheduled, as on the 14th April, the vessel’s conditional – the Certificate of Class which was Conditional – and SAFCON certificate ( Short term) had expired. In spite of informing owners until the time we had finished discharge there was no renewal of the certificates. The vessel sailed out of Chittagong Port but shortly, just when we arrived at Port limits, we stopped the vessel and owners were informed that this vessel can only proceed to sea when we have the requisite documents keeping the P&I, Flag State and the class duly informed.
Now this lackadaisical attitude of owners was apparent and again they started putting pressures for the vessel to proceed to Durban and since there is a lockdown the relief won’t be possible. Now we insisted that there is an SOP in place, the crew is overdue, we are already very fatigued, and people are very tense on board and it is unsafe to carry on navigation watches as well as to carry on the duties. Having said that, once the vessel arrived in GALLE, we had the owners arrange 9 crew members, Sri Lankan nationals. Now they didn’t have any access to a reasonable agent in India, so they asked me as a Master, with my contacts, that if I can make, if I can give them information on any reasonable agents available. We had options we told them J M Baxi and GAC Shippingeventually the vessel initially was to go to Tuticorin but then it was directed to Kochi and a relief was to be arranged for 9 plus 1, that is the chief cook in addition to the 9 other crew members at Kochi.
Now during this phase, again, the stand-off of the boat crew sign-off, Mr John Ramage was again put in as a mediator because the owners remained very very adamant not to arrange the crew change. The vessel arrived on the 28th and we were scheduled to take a pilot into Kochi on the 29th. In fact, we were the first ship to call in Kochi Port for a crew change after the lockdown was announced on the 19th March 2020. Having said that we did sign off on the 29th April, I handed over command to the incoming Master, a Sri Lankan national, and we proceeded for a quarantine of 14 days as per the Public Health Office in Kochi.
Which was now what transpired was alarming, the Crewing Manager Captain Santanu Ghosh of Tomini was immediately sacked after the crew disembarked at Kochi. That Tomini Shipping, Tomini Transports UAE went into a PR spree and contacted the local media – Times of India – to publish an article saying that owners have taken all measures to disembark crew and are they are doing it for the crew welfare and this kind of information. Which was absolutely false and is false propaganda on their part.
Now to put on record, on the 9th June, I have received an official letter from Marshall Islands informing me this is three alleged complaints which are totally baseless of owners Tomini Transport LLC, by the owners of Tomini Transport LLC, my seafaring documents of Republic of Marshall Islands stand suspended and they have opened a maritime investigation into my actions as a Master onboard Tomini Destiny.
Now this is attributed, mainly, to discredit my actions as a Master which I took, using my overriding authority, to safeguard my crew from exposure during the Covid19 pandemic whilst the vessel was calling the port of Chittagong. Likewise, I did raise the concerns of overdue crew members; one of the crew members had already completed 12 months, two of them were 11 months past, the officers were 7 months, and myself had completed 8 months once we arrived in Kochi. Now this is, this was, this is, a very unacceptable situation which I find myself, and this is a very vindictive behaviour on part of Tomini Transports LLC. Having harassed the crew during the course when we were onboard, not listening to our concerns, and still continue with their vindictive behaviour, putting false baseless allegations: that their interest has been compromised.
I have strongly refuted all three alleged heads of complaint within a week – on 15th June 2020 I sent my reply to Republic of Marshall Islands giving all supporting documents.
Now my larger concern is – is this a precedent being set by Tomini Transports LLC? Like during the pandemic there have been several seafarers who have felt pressurized, overburdened, fatigued, during extended contracts asking for relief. They have been relieved, so what action do they stand now once they have been relieved? The flag states are going to revoke or suspend all the licenses because they did, they put their concerns, to Owners, to Management companies, to have them relieved, they can’t cope with the pressure.
This is very unfair. This is very unjust.
We the seafarers are a lifeline to keep the sea lanes and the global supply chains moving on.
We are the ones who stay away from families. We are human. We have feelings.
And this is a very unfortunate circumstance I find myself with 15 years in command.
My main concerns are also – what about my 20 other crew members? What action do they stand? Their licenses are also going to be revoked because they signed genuine concerns, their genuine concerns, they had the right to put their concerns on the paper, where our concerns were not heeded by Tomini Transports LLC, the owners. We were harassed. We approached authorities. As a Master I did recognize , and I did weigh the situation, and the last resort was for me to use my powers to put in my Masters overriding authority and tell the owners that they are, that they have to abide by the regulations, it is a complete violation of ISM, MLC and Seafarers’ rights.
I request and appeal to all governing authorities, to institutions, to uphold the Seafarer’s morale. To take cognisance of the fact, of what owners like Tomini Transport are doing, and to what extent they are going to harm the seafarers’ interest.
Please don’t let them do this. They have to be stopped.
I appeal to all governmental organisations, support us.
Capt. Rajnish Samuel Shah”
NOTE: Human Rights at Sea has published the testimony by Captain Rajnish Shah as a result of ongoing coverage of the case, in support of the Master and noting the issues raised in the subsequent treatment of the Master for standing up for his crew. Human Rights at Sea makes no comment on the accuracy of the testimony, while the opinions expressed are those of Captain Shah only.
Human Rights at Sea reserves the absolute right to freely and independently review, comment and report on matters affecting the human rights, including labour rights, of seafarers, fishers and their dependents who voluntary approach the charity for support in line with the organisation’s charitable objectives.