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How we were tricked into slavery on Iranian ships— -Indian seafarers

Iranian shipping companies in league with international recruiting firms have allegedly been forcing large numbers of Indian seafarers to work in dangerous conditions, often with little or no pay.
According to Indian Seafarers and maritime activists,  thousands of Indian men are lured to Iran each year by recruiters guaranteeing salaries and experience aboard reputable ships and often promising assignments in other Middle Eastern countries.
 The seafarers claimed they are sent to Iran and put to sea, where they are overworked, denied enough food and at times forced to transport drugs and cargo that is under international sanctions.

“They target seafarers for work without salary. It’s all a big trap,” said Ashkay Kumar, a 24-year-old deck cadet from Delhi who was among 26 Indian men interviewed about their experience with Iranian shipping. “They forced us to work like slaves.”

When a job recruitment agent in India handed Ashwani Pandit a plane ticket and visa for Iran early last year, he panicked.

The 24-year-old from Bihar state said he had taken out loans to pay the recruiter $2,600 to secure a job aboard a ship that Pandit believed was based in Dubai.
He hoped it would give him the experience needed to start a career at sea.

When he found out at the last minute that he had been tricked, Pandit said, he was denied a refund and had little choice but to travel to Iran, where he toiled aboard a small cargo boat for seven months transporting urea and iron to Iraq.

“My friends working on vessels in Iran warned me companies there don’t pay salaries,” he said. “The same thing happened to me.”

Pandit ultimately left Iran empty-handed in August 2020. His employer, Dashti Marine Co., arranged his exit visa on the condition he signs a contract stating he did not require payment for his work.

The document, seen by The Washington Post, declares that his only compensation is a letter from the company confirming his work experience.

Babak Dashti, the owner of Dashti Marine, declined to comment.

Indians represent a significant share of the seafarers employed by Iranian companies, in part because India is a major source of maritime labor worldwide.

 About 316,000 Indians work as seafarers, nearly 20 percent of the global total, according to data published by India’s Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways.

The Indian labor is especially appealing for Iranian companies because U.S. sanctions on Iran have made it difficult to hire workers from many other counties, said Andy Bowerman, regional director for the Middle East and South Asia at the Mission to Seafarers, a charity.

“There is a close relationship between Iran and India, and therefore it is quite attractive in terms of securing visas,” he said.

Moreover, he said, “there are a lot of desperate people who will take a contract that they may or may not know has some risk to it.”

The pipeline for these migrant workers comprises recruitment agents in both India and Iran in addition to Iranian shipping firms, seafarers said.

Those interviewed said they had paid between $2,019 and $6,732 to secure their jobs. Almost all were starting their careers and seeking the experience needed to secure more lucrative jobs.
“Families want their sons to get out of poverty and earn something better, so they put all their resources in, sell off their land and farms, to give to the recruitment agent,” said Chirag Bahri, director of the Indian division of the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).

Amitabh Kumar, the Indian government’s Director General of shipping, said that most of these seafarers appear to have traveled abroad as “undocumented recruitments” and that it is difficult to provide an exact number of men involved.

 In addition to those men who are falsely told their work will be based outside Iran, there are some seafarers who knew they were headed to the Islamic republic but say they were still taken aback by the working conditions they found.

Neither Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization nor the Shipping Association of Iran responded to requests for comment.

Almost all the seafarers interviewed said they were denied adequate food and suffered regular attacks of hunger and subsequent weight loss.

“I faced a problem with food. I asked for food from ships nearby if I didn’t have lunch.

“If I asked for one bread or two eggs, they gave them to me,” said Yaseen Sha, 32, who said he returned home to India in July after spending 19 months in Iran without pay.

Some seafarers reported they were put to work aboard Iranian-flagged vessels that transport narcotics.

Anand Maity, 28, from Kolkata, for instance, said he had been working in the kitchen of a tugboat sailing from Djibouti to Iran and was unaware that drugs were on board before a stash of heroin was discovered two years ago by the Iranian coast guard.

He and seven other crew members were arrested. He said he spent 18 months in Tehran’s Evin prison before being released in June. “I try to forget that time,” Maity said. “I don’t want to remember.”

Several men recalled getting caught up in other types of illicit commerce.

Jameel Akhtar, 29, from Mumbai, was among a number of seafarers who told of working on vessels smuggling fuel and other Iranian goods covered by U.S. sanctions.

After his tanker was caught transporting Iranian fuel in late 2020, Akhtar said, it was detained by authorities from the United Arab Emirates and remained anchored in port for months.

In July, four people wearing black masks and goggles and brandishing guns boarded the ship, tied the crew members’ hands behind their backs and threatened to shoot anybody who moved, he recalled.

The crew was held hostage while the tanker was sailed to Bandar Abbas, Iran. They were then released and assisted by the Indian Embassy to fly home.

An official report on the incident, published by investigators from the maritime administration of Dominica, the Caribbean country where the vessel was flagged, said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was likely responsible.

 Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Seafarers interviewed in India said they ultimately returned home with little if any money to show for their work, as well as traumatized by their experience with Iranian shipping companies, but they remained unwilling to give up their dreams of working at sea.

Pandit is searching for a job but says he will never return to Iran. “The shipping companies are total frauds,” he said.

 “These are big men. They don’t understand the misery experienced by the poor.”

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Headlines

IMO tasks Mobereola to sustain NIMASA’s leadership role in regional maritime industry

—– hails his appointment as DG
The Eyewitness Reporter
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has lauded the leadership role of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in the maritime industry within the West African sub-region which it said has stabilized maritime administration in the region.
In his congratulatory letter to Dr. Dayo Mobereola, the new NIMASA DG, the Secretary General of IMO Arsenio Dominguez, observed with satisfaction the collaborative efforts of NIMASA that have brought relative peace to the troubled Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
He therefore charged Mobereola to sustain the tempo of activities that will keep the momentum going in the areas of safety, security and building of strong maritime institutions.
In a conveyance letter personally signed by him, the IMO Secretary-General recognized the strides of the Agency in building a robust maritime sector in Nigeria, adding that the IMO commends the significant effort, initiatives, and investment that Nigeria has made in strengthening its maritime institutions.

In the words of Dominguez, “The focus on strengthening maritime law enforcement and security architecture has been welcomed by seafarers and flag States.

“The Deep Blue project and the C4i Centre as well as maritime piracy laws under the SPOMO Act are just some of the many investments that have set a new gold standard in the region in maritime security capacity building”.

“IMO has long supported the regional role of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and its Member States in strengthening maritime security and law enforcement.

” In this respect, we have been greatly encouraged with the continuation of this regional ownership with the formation and work of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum and Shared Awareness and De-confliction (GoG-MCF/SHADE) in 2021”.

He commended the Agency’s partnership with the various regional bodies and expressed the readiness of the IMO to work with Nigeria and other member states on many maritime issues with the aim of jointly tackling these issues.

“NIMASA’s partnership with the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) and the collaboration with the shipping industry, navies and the Yaoundé architecture has been instrumental in suppressing the threat of piracy to merchant vessels and seafarers in line with UN Security Council resolution 2634 (2022) on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea and IMO Assembly resolution A.1159 (32)”.

” I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on many of the maritime issues that we are jointly tackling and hope to welcome you in person at the IMO, he said.

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Headlines

Eastern shippers, freight forwarders on collision course with Shippers’ Council over increase in haulage rate

Akutah Pius Ukeyima, ES, NSC
The Eyewitness Reporter
Importers, Exporters and freight forwarders playing their trade in the South East region of the country have rejected the recent 200 percent hike in haulage rate by the Nigerian Shippers’Council.
They described the increase as “outrageous, arbitrary, and unacceptable.”
In a press conference called by the aggrieved shippers in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, they claimed that if the hike was not reversed, it would bring them on a collision course with the Shippers’ Council.
Addressing journalists on behalf of the aggrieved group, Joshua Ahuama, Zonal Coordinator of the Association of Nigerian Customs Licenced Agents (ANLCA), claimed that the rate will not only lead to spiral inflation but also in contravention of the provisions of the NSC Act.
He disclosed that the group shall give the Shippers’Council a seven-day ultimatum to reverse to status quo or face withdrawal of their services at the Eastern ports.
He accused the council of not consulting concerned stakeholders before arriving at the decision, saying consultations are an integral part of the NSC Act.
 “Recently, the NSC approved a 200 percent increment in haulage rate for transport owners and drivers operating under the Maritime Union of Nigeria.
“To this end, importers and freight forwarders associations in the eastern zone have unanimously disputed the new rate because it is outrageous, arbitrary, and unacceptable to all stakeholders in the zone.
“We have, however, resolved to adopt all peaceful efforts. We started this move on March 14 by calling on the NSC to ensure proper stakeholder engagement and renegotiation.

” These measures are also expected to help all parties to reach a benchmark that would be in the interest of all stakeholders in the maritime value chain,” Ahuama noted.

 “We also urge the NSC to return to the status quo by suspending the implementation of the disputed rate, pending proper renegotiation covering the interest of all stakeholders.

“We are not on a selfish course. Our demands are in the interest of Nigerians because any slight increase in the haulage rate will reflect on the prices of goods in the open market.

“A businessman incorporates total logistic costs into the prices of goods.”

However, the group said they might be constrained to take drastic measures, including suspending all declarations of goods and payments of customs duties, which could negatively affect national revenue and economic output.

Some members of the import and export associations present at the meeting included the Nigeria Shippers Association, the Aba International Traders Association, the Ultimate Importers Association, the POP Importers Association, the Nnewi Importers Association, and the Onitsha Importers Association.

However, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has said that the new approved rate took into consideration the cost, moderation and other cargo transport issues.
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Customs

Performance of Apapa Customs scanning officers excites Comptroller Jaiyeoba

The Eyewitness Reporter
The Area Controller of Apapa command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba has lauded the uncompromising attitude of the officers of the Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology Unit (NIITU) which he said has been invaluable to the overall success of the command.
Comptroller Jaiyeoba, who was on an unscheduled visit to the scanner site, reminded the officers of the importance of teamwork as a strong basis to sustain the gains of compliance and revenue collection recently recorded by the command.
He thanked Deputy Comptroller Salamatu Atuluku, the Officer in charge of the scanning site and encouraged the unit not to be deterred by complaints coming from persons who were made to pay accurate duties to the government after issuance of demand notices
According to him, no business person who is made to part with money will be happy with officers who refused to compromise the ethics of their job
” The main reason for me coming here is to appreciate you. I may not see you but I have seen your work and I won’t keep quiet about what I have seen about your work.
“You are doing very well. I just want to encourage you to work as a team. If you don’t work as a team, you give room for outsiders to come in and when they come in, they divide you and when they divide you,  achieving success will be very difficult
” Do your work without blemish. Once you keep your arm straight, you can stand before anybody. Your work as a customs officer is to ensure that you do the correct thing
” For those of you doing an intervention in the form of Demand Notice(DN), there is no body who part with money that will be happy with you.
“They will want to play intelligent by hiding somewhere. When you fetch them from their hiding place, they become your enemy. Whatever they write about anybody here will still come down to me and if anybody works well, the onus on me is to defend such a person.
“Just have it at the back of your mind that you owe yourself the duty of doing your work diligently whether anyone comes around as a friend or enemy.
“It is not enough for you to rest. The reward for hard work is more work. These demands require sacrifice so that you can maintain the status” he said.
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