Ever Given ship refloated, concerns of possible legal action arise for Indian crew

Ever Given being pulled out of Suez Canal (Image: Screenshot from video by Capt Sanjay Prashar/PrasharSdp)

On March 29, the container ship ‘Ever Given’ that was blocking the Suez Canal since March 23 was finally refloated. A team of experts had been working tirelessly to remove the container ship from the Canal so that the traffic can resume. As the container ship is all set to move out of the Canal, there are some concerns that the crew comprising of 25 Indians may face legal action by the Suez Canal Authorities.

Crew and captain may face house arrest

According to a report published in the Times of India, the Indian Government and the seafarers’ organizations are concerned that the crew may face legal actions. There is a possibility of criminal charges against the crew members. Sources of TOI in the shipping industry said that one of the possibilities is that some of the crew members, including the captain, may be restrained from further travel and face house arrest until the investigation is completed. However, the ship management has not yet issued any statement on the legal procedures that the crew may have to face.

Shipping organisations in support of Indian crew

Captain Sanjay Prashar, a member of the National Shipping Board (NSB), said, “Firstly, it has to be ascertained as to how the giant ship ran aground. Facts can be checked by examining and listening to conversation in the ship voyage data recorder, and one can come to an understanding as to what caused the mishap.”

Abdulgani Serang, general secretary, National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), said in a tweet that the organization supports the Indian crew members. He said, “NUSI has promised solidarity support to all our Indian seafarers onboard “EVER GIVEN” struck in the Suez Canal.  I got in touch with them. The seafarers are fine but stressed out. They are not alone, and we will support them whenever required in whatever manner required.”

Seafarers are often unfairly blamed for incidents at sea, says ITF’s David Heindel

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) issued a press release on March 29 and welcomed the news that Suez Canal will soon be unblocked. Stephen Cotton, the General Secretary, ITF, said, “We welcome news that the Ever Given has been freed and the Suez Canal will soon be unblocked. That’s fantastic for the sake of all the seafarers on this ship and others who have been waiting to transit the Suez Canal.”

David Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, said there should be a full investigation of the matter to assess the reasons that led to the blockage of the Suez Canal route. He added that it is essential not to rush to any conclusion until all facts are laid bare. “An open and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding this event should be conducted, drawing on necessary input and expertise from the crew and their unions. Of course, the industry needs to learn any lessons that emerge from this incident,” he added.

Heindel said too often, seafarers are unfairly blamed for incidents at sea, thus, proper investigation is a must. “When proper investigations are conducted, we are able to stand back and see the systematic factors which drive bad outcomes,” he added. Calling seafarers heroes, he said that they need everyone’s support.