By AZARD ALI of Trinidad Newsday
FIVE Guyanese who have been living for the past 19 months on a Nigerian oil and gas vessel docked in Trinidad waters, have vowed not to leave the ship unless they are paid US$215,000 in wages.
The M T Tumini has been docked a mile off Trinidad Cement Limited’s jetty with the Guyanese holed up in there since July last year, coming to shore only every three weeks to fetch drinking water and food.
With little funds remaining, however, having been paid July, 2013 wages in January this year, the Guyanese are pleading for intervention by the Trinidad and Tobago government to seize the ship under International Maritime Law.
Attorney Nyree Alfonso has written to the vessel’s former owner in Nigeria, Petroleum Brokers Shipping Services Limited, threatening to arrest the vessel and sell it in order to meet the wages of the Guyanese crew.
With the crew running out of funds to even purchase drinking water, the Guyanese made a desperate plea for local intervention yesterday, telling Newsday that they sought assistance from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in London, who advised them not to leave the vessel, for fear that they would lose their wages.
M T Tumini was first purchased by Petroleum Brokers Ltd of Nigeria in 2008, from a Florida-base company which worked the vessel in the Caribbean, transporting fuel. However, after the Nigerian company purchased the vessel, it never sailed due to extensive repairs that were needed.
A Nigerian bank — Eco Bank, took over the mortage on the vessel and continued to finance its operations in Trinidad.
A five-member crew from Guyana was hired to man the vessel. They are: Rakesh Jim (Chief Officer); Roy Fredericks (Chief Engineer); Lawrence Daniel (second Engineer); Mohammed Gadwah (second officer); Neil Rampersad (Assistant Engineer/oiler). These men are still aboard the vessel, and up to yesterday, spoke to Newsday seeking this government’s intervention, claiming that it seems that Eco-Bank has abandoned the vessel in Trinidad.
“We have not been hearing anything from the authorities in Nigeria, especially the Chief Officer, Rakesh Jim, about the fate of the vessel, and our salaries for the past 19 months. We are the crew maintaining the vessel,” one of the men told Newsday yesterday.
The Guyanese crew has not left the vessel since July last year, except to use a dingy to get on shore at Claxton Bay to purchase water and foodstuffs to take back to the vessel.
Newsday was shown written correspondence from the ITF, dated February 6, 2014, in which Angie Robinson (Maritime Operations, London)) advised the five Guyanese crew members not to abandon the vessel as it would be difficult for them to recover their wages. Alfonso’s letter threatened that under Trinidad and Tobago law, if the vessel remains in local waters, judicial arrest proceedings could be taken out to move the court for an order for sale of the M T Tumini, in order to settle the crew’s wages.