Indian sailors still on stranded ship off US port city after 35 days

IANS-

They would have been in Colombo in Sri Lanka, their destination, a couple of days ago, and would have been on their way home. But they remain on a cargo ship off the coast of the US port city of Baltimore.

The 20 Indian members of the crew of Dali remain on board the vessel 35 days after the container ship brought down a bridge in Baltimore on March 26 in an early morning maritime accident that claimed the lives of six men who were working on the bridge at the time.

A member of the crew who was injured received treatment on shore and returned to the ship the day after.

If everything had gone right that night, they would be in Colombo by the end of Monday or Tuesday.

Fluent Cargo, a company that says it plans freight routes for clients across land, air, and sea, says a container ship would take about 33 days and 21 hours to reach Colombo from Baltimore. If everything goes according to schedule, they might have added.

Dali hit a pillar of the Key Scott Bridge, a 50-year-old structure that serves thousands of motorists every day, in circumstances that are being investigated by multiple US agencies.

The collision brought the bridge and blocked the passage of all cargo ships waiting to be on their way after Dali.

The crew are on the ship which is the scene of investigation by the US authorities.

The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry into the incident apart from separate probes underway by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation.

The bridge collapse received nationwide attention and US President Joe Biden has promised all possible help in the construction of the bridge and visited the site.

Jim Lawrence, a spokesperson for the Dali owner Grace Ocean Private Ltd., said the Indian crew members confirmed their presence on board now for 33 days.

“Still on board, in good spirits,” he added.

They are frequently represented by representatives of the company and the Indian embassy and by the Seamen’s Church Institute, which serves mariners in education, legal advocacy, and pastoral guidance.

The crew “routinely have catered meals and desserts delivered to the ship”, Lawrence said, adding, “In addition to performing normal duties on board the ship, they are also assisting with the investigations and with the ongoing salvage work.”

A request to interview the crew or get a written statement from any of them was turned down “out of respect for the investigation”.

The Indian embassy in Washington D.C. declined a request for the names of the stranded sailors and had not responded till the filing of this report to a request for information about the well-being of the Indian sailors: if they can go off the ship, whether they have US permission to go on the mainland, and, finally, how often was the embassy or the relevant consulate checking on the crew.

Experts have said the sailors could remain on the ship for a few more weeks and or, months. And when they are allowed to leave, the junior sailors will be prioritized. The senior members were in for a long stay on the ship which is standing still in the waters as engineers cut away parts of the collapsed bridge lying across its bow, the front part.

Authorities expect to get the ship afloat again by May 10 and dock it.

It will remain there for the duration of the investigations.

The owners have said the crew has received counseling from workplace mental health specialists with experience in the maritime industry.

A dedicated team that included clinical psychologists had worked round-the-clock in support of the crew in the immediate aftermath of the incident “in the form of regular, individual, and confidential counseling”. These resources were on offer also to families of the crew.

The company had allowed the crew members unlimited use of the ship’s satellite communications system to stay in contact with their families.

The spokesperson did not say the crew was still enjoying this facility.

Dali was constructed by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries and was launched in late 2014.

It’s owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd, flies a Singapore flag, and runs on diesel. It is 984 feet (300 metre) long, weighs 95,000 tons when empty, and can carry 10,000 20-foot (six metre) containers.

 

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