By Alison Bate (The Globe and Mail, Aug.22, 1998)
On the face of it, stranded seaman Akhtar Khan should be a happy man. Mr. Khan and six others finally flew home to India yesterday, the last of the crew of 24 men who spent nine nightmare months aboard the Atlantis Two in Vancouver harbour.
Instead, he fears for his safety. While he and his shipmates are looking forward to seeing their families, their problems are far from over. They are going home without the wages owing to them, in Mr. Khan’s case, around $10,000(US).
Mr. Khan, an able seaman, has six children, a wife and other relatives dependent on him, and the family has had to borrow heavily from money-lenders over the past months.
After reaching India, he plans to hide out until the money arrives.
“The money-lenders will not believe me when I say the money is coming,” he said. “I am worried about my safety. I am not very happy. If I get the money I can feel much better. But until that time I will hide from the money-lenders.”
Ugramoorthy Chettiar, from Madras, is also concerned. He has four children and his second daughter is due to be married. “I’ve got nothing now. She can’t get married until the money comes,” said Mr. Chettiar, an oiler.
The bulk carrier has been stranded with crew and cargo of potash in Vancouver harbour since November, 1997. Its owners ran into financial difficulties, the ship was detained for hull corrosion and safety reasons, local creditors were unpaid, and the Indian crew weren’t paid. The longer the vessel stayed in port, the more problems multiplied.
As they languished in unrelieved boredom on board, often without enough food and heat, their families at home suffered along with them – all the men are the sole providers for their families.
In May, the federal court in Vancouver agreed the ship should be sold so that the crew could receive their wages and other creditors could be paid. The ownership of the Atlantis Two was murky – it was registered to Expedient Maritime, a Cyprus-based company, but other international companies associated with the ship claimed to be agents acting on behalf of the owners.
It was sold by auction at the bargain basement price of $1.1 million (US). As the sealed bids were opened on Aug.7, there were serious faces all round from the assembled lawyers, representatives and crew members.
“The market at this moment in time is very shaky,” said acting sheriff Bernie Jones, of Vancouver-based CTL Westrans, appointed to handle the ship sale.
He said a U.K. ship broker appraised the value of the Atlantis Two at $1.45 million US, the flat market caused it to be sold under its value.
The majority of the crew had already been repatriated, but seven remained until yesterday to provide a safe handover to the new crew. In an unusual move, Immigration Canada loaned the money for the former crew to fly home.
The new owners are Pacific & Atlantic Corp. of Pireaus, Greece.
P & A superintendent Milonas Konstantinos said the vessel still needs repairs, mainly for safety, before it is allowed to leave Vancouver by Transport Canada, which is responsible for ship safety.
Peter Lahay, inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents foreign crew, said they would do everything they could to get the money to the crew as soon as possible.
© The Globe and Mail, 1998