Stranded! But God is at work…

An evangelical Middle East chaplain is playing a key role in resolving a long-running dispute which has left five sailors stuck on an abandoned tanker for years.

Andy Bowerman, Regional Director for the Mission to Seafarers, has been visiting the stranded crew of the Panama-flagged MT Iba since May 2019 to ensure they have adequate food, water and fuel – as well as responding to their requests for spiritual support and to questions about what motivates him to help them.

The Iba is currently grounded of the coast of Umm Al Quwain, in the United Arab Emirates. It was abandoned by the vessel’s owner, and the seafarers’ wages have not been paid for two and a half years. If the crew leave before the money they are owed is paid, they will lose their right to claim it. They might also face difficulty going ashore because of UAE immigration rules.

Regular contact

Speaking to en from Dubai, Bowerman said: ‘We have had regular contact with the seafarers since May 2019 when they first reported themselves to be unsupported – abandoned – by their company. We have visited them at the anchorage around once each month since that time and ensured that they have adequate food, water and fuel. We have made contact with families, etc. in their home countries – India, Pakistan and Myanmar. When not in person we remain in contact via WhatsApp.

‘I speak to them each week. When asked, I and our small team always share the reason why we do what we do. We tell seafarers in this case that we follow a God of justice and compassion, one who longs for everyone to find freedom. In this case we have been able to connect the chief engineer – Naywin from Myanmar – to another abandoned seafarer who is a captain, also from Myanmar. That captain is a Christian and he regularly shares Bible readings and prayers with the crew. We have been able to get our chaplains to visit families at home and have had a local church support the family of another crew member, Riasat Ali, back in Karachi, Pakistan.’

He described conditions on the vessel as ‘tough’, adding: ‘The two senior crew members have been on board for 44 months. For the last 27 they have been at anchor with minimal supplies. Conditions are basic. They have attempted to maintain the vessel as best they can given the limited resources that they have.’

Missing their families

Speaking to en from the deck of the ship, Chief Engineer Naywin said: ‘Mr Andy [has] supported us many times for everything. I miss my family. Forty-four months on board is a long time never to see them’.

Bowerman and his team have negotiated for the seafarers to receive just over 70% of what they are owed by Alco Shipping, the tanker’s owner, which hit financial difficulties resulting in the abandonment. This figure is considered a very good settlement in such circumstances. A final resolution of the seafarers’ predicament may depend on a new owner buying the Iba.

Andy Bowerman joined the Mission to Seafarers in 2018, and oversees the charity’s work in the Gulf and South Asia. This involves speaking to donors and partners on behalf of the Mission, and visiting ships for pastoral and spiritual support.

Photo: The stranded tanker.

en staff / Andy Bowerman / The Guardian

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