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Indian crew stuck on crippled ship in Baltimore for 7 weeks, can’t pay bills

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  • The mobile phones of the 21 crew members have been confiscated due to the probe
  • Crew on ship fears personal criminal liability and is facing emotional distress
  • The crew on board the crippled ship have been given care packages, including Indian snacks

BALTIMORE : “They can’t do any online banking. They can’t pay their bills at home. They don’t have any of their data or anyone’s contact information, so they’re really isolated right now. They just can’t reach out to the folks they need to, or even look at pictures of their children before they go to sleep. It’s really a sad situation,” Joshua Messick, Executive Director of the Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center, a non-profit organisation that works to protect the rights of mariners, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Twenty-one sailors, 20 from India and one from Sri Lanka, are stuck on board the Dali, a container vessel that collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, since March 26 due to the ongoing investigation. That’s seven weeks.

The 21 on board were left without communication for weeks with their families, causing significant hardship for crew members with young children at home, and the outside world, as their mobile phones had been confiscated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a part of the investigation into the crash.

Tuesday’s initial report by federal safety investigators raises several unanswered questions.

For instance, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) outlined four power failures experienced by the 290-metre-long ship, reported ABC News.

The causes of three of these failures remain unclear, including two that happened just before the crash.

Despite explosives being used to remove part of the bridge from the ship’s hull on Monday, the crew still cannot leave the ship.

The crew of 21, including 20 Indians, will remain on board until the probe into the incident is completed, reported ABC News.

The US authorities have already begun interviewing the crew members on board the vessel, and have collected documents and voyage data recorder extracts as part of their investigation.

The crew, consisting of 20 Indians and one Sri Lankan, couldn’t leave the ship due to visa restrictions, reported the BBC.

Crew members fear personal criminal liability

The 21 crew members on the Dali are facing emotional distress, and they are also fearful of personal criminal liability.

The sailors’ situations caught the attention of their two unions — the Singapore Maritime Officers’ and the Singapore Organisation of Seamen.

In a statement together on May 11, they mentioned that “morale has understandably dipped”, driven by “unfounded fear of personal criminal liability” and emotional distress.

The unions also asked for the quick return of the sailors’ mobile phones so that they could connect with their family and make other arrangements at home, like paying their bills.

Dave Heindel, President of the Seafarers International Union, stressed that regardless of how long the investigation lasts, the rights of crew members and their welfare should not be infringed upon.

“We call on the authorities to be mindful that seafarers utilise mobile devices to conduct personal business for bill payments, and, more important, transfer money to their home country to sustain families. Crew members are becoming demoralised without the basic tools we all take for granted,” said Heindel, reported BBC.

Crew members on board get phones,Indian snacks

Andrew Middleton, from the Apostleship of Sea — a programme that ministers to ships coming through Baltimore — shared his experience visiting the sailors two weeks prior.

“Once we broke the ice and got everyone to say their name and what part of India they were from, and talk about if they were married or had children, we got the ball rolling. They were willing to kind of poke fun at one another a little bit…. we did our best to get them laughing and joking, hopefully to take their minds off things for even a few minutes,” Middleton was quoted as saying by BBC.

For now, the phones of 21 crew members on the ship, Dali, have been replaced with new ones, and Synergy Marine — Dali’s Singapore-based management company — said that the crew members had unlimited use of satellite communication so that they could be in touch with the family, reported the ABC News.

The temporary mobile phones provided to the members of the stranded Dali do not have data connectivity and can’t be used for internet banking or paying bills.

The crew members were also given care packages, including Indian snacks and handmade quilts.

Darrel Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine, Dali’s Singapore-based management company, said the crew is “holding up well” and that company representatives dispatched to Baltimore have been “checking on them constantly, from day one”, reported BBC.

The Dali collided with the 2.6-km-long four-lane Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26. The 984-foot cargo ship was bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Six construction workers who went missing after the Francis Scott Key Bridge in US’s Baltimore city collapsed are presumed dead.

The ship contained thousands of tonnes of steel and cement. After the hit, the cement and steel fell into the Patapsco River and left the ship stranded.

The bridge was 8,636 feet (2,632 m) long and carried an estimated 11.5 million vehicles annually.

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