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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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Traffic gridlock returns to Apapa port as Federal government closes Total bridge for maintainance works

The eyewitness reporter
The relative respite that port users have recently experienced from the malignant traffic gridlock at Apapa port may be over as the Federal Ministry of Works closed down the ever-busy Total bridge to the traffic.
Announcing the temporary closure which is expected to last for two and half months, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said the measure is to pave way for repairs and maintenance works to be carried out on the bridge.
According to the statement by the authority on its verified Twitter handle, the bridge was closed to the traffic inward Apapa Port Sunday, 26th March 2023 at about 11.35 pm.
To minimise the pains of the resumed traffic gridlock on the port access road, the NPA said it has put in place a traffic control mechanism that is expected to ease the pains of port  road users.
The agency said it has partnered with LASMA, Police, FRSC and the Nigerian Navy to manage the traffic situation and work out alternative routes for motorists.
” To pave way for repair and maintenance works, the Federal ministry of works yesterday closed the TOTAL BRIDGE INWARD APAPA at about 11:35 am on 25th March 2023 to last for two months and a half.

“Given the impact the closure will have on Port users, the Authority in partnership with LASTMA, Police, FRSC, and the Nigerian Navy have worked out alternative routes and are on the ground to manage the traffic situation in the affected areas.

“The Authority wishes to solicit the understanding and cooperation of all stakeholders as we continue to support measures to mitigate the temporary disruptions, the NPA pleaded.

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NIMASA collaborates with NCC to regulate submarine cable operation for enhanced navigational safety on Nigerian waters

The eyewitness reporter

Apparently alarmed by the indiscriminate laying of communication cables and pipelines underneath the Nigerian waters by telecommunications operators and other allied professionals which has the potential of harming the safe navigation of ships, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) has engaged the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in a strategic discussion to forge a formidable synergy with other relevant stakeholders with a view to developing a regulatory framework to provide operational guidelines for submarine Cable and Pipeline Operators in Nigeria.

Officials of both organs of Government in Lagos reached this agreement at a pre Audit meeting on submarine cable regulation.

The Director General of NIMASA Dr. Bashir Jamoh, who chaired the meeting, which also had the Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) Mr. Dasuki Arabi in attendance, noted that the Agency is committed to the Ease of Doing Business while implementing International Conventions which Nigeria has ratified and domesticated.

He noted that with Nigeria now a destination for global communication players, the time has come to prevent unregulated underwater cable laying, which might become hazardous to shipping.

According to him, “It is worthy to note that marine cable laying has been ongoing for over two decades in Nigerian waters.

“Our focus is to ensure the safety of navigation of shipping in Nigerian waters with all these underwater cables being laid.

“NIMASA is actually developing the guidelines to regulate submarine cable operators in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS; which we have ratified and NIMASA is the Agency of Government in Nigeria responsible for its implementation.

“We do not just implement laws; we consult. Where the responsibility of an Agency stops, that is where the responsibilities of another Agency start.

“Collaboration is a key component of ease of doing business in the best interest of the country and we will work closely with the NCC to achieve this”.

On his part, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, who was represented by the Director, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement, Efosa Idehen, noted that the stakeholders’ dialogue strategy adopted by NIMASA in developing the guidelines would ensure a win-win situation, urging NIMASA management to include the Ministry of Justice, a request NIMASA DG immediately granted.

Also speaking at the meeting was the Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms Mr. Dasuki Arabi, who commended NIMASA and NCC for adopting effective Inter-Agency collaboration to avert a potential challenge for the country in the future.

NIMASA had notified submarine and cable operators in Nigeria of a soon-to-be-implemented regulatory guideline for submarine cables and pipelines in Nigeria, in line with the provisions of UNCLOS.

NIMASA and the NCC agreed to identify and resolve areas of likely regulatory overlaps, ensuring a regulatory framework based on consultation to engender the attainment of Nigeria’s digital economy transformation.

Officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment and representatives of Submarine Cable operators in Nigeria were also at the meeting.

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Comptroller Nnadi mourns death of retired customs officer,   DCG Sanusi

—–reminiscences on his encounter with late Customs boss
The eyewitness reporter 
Comptroller Dera Nnadi, the Area Controller of the Seme Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, has expressed a deep sense of loss mixed with grief over the death of DCG (rtd) Umar Sanusi
The retired Customs boss died early hours of Sunday 26th, March 2023,  at a private hospital in Abuja and will be buried according to Islamic rites the same day after Muslim prayer in the Abuja Central Mosque.
However,  in an emotion-laden tribute to the late Customs boss, Nnadi bemoaned the death of Sanusi whom he said he admired and revered as a Customs officer.
Recounting his various encounters with the deceased, Nnadi disclosed that the late Sanusi came across to him as a fine, diligent, compassionate, thorough, and core professional officer who was humane, humble, and highly detribalized, the attributes which Comptroller Nnadi said had a deep impression on him
“It is with a heavy heart that I received the news of the death of DCG Rtd Umar Sanusi.  A gentleman officer and an erudite Nigerian.
“My first encounter with the senior officer was in 2003 or so at the  CGC conference in Calabar Cross River State, where, as an Assistant Comptroller of Customs, he presented a report as the  APM Apapa Command.
“It was not common then to present papers and reports in PowerPoint, but he did. This was not the only remarkable thing he did at the conference.
“The then AC Sanusi was detailed in his report, which was a departure from what others presented.
“He was factual and honest and admitted it where things were wrong in NCS  operations at Apapa Command and highlighted them in writing during his presentation.
“This was shocking to the entire audience as it was rare then for officers to admit that their acts while discharging their duties, were not optimal.
“Some attempt by the moderator to stop him was rebuffed by a lone voice.
“One man and indeed the Boss was that voice. The then  CGC now Gbon Gwom Jos Da Elder Jacob Gyang Buba overruled everybody and urged him to continue and to even say more if he has facts.
“He gave him more time than the allotted 30 minutes. There was a pin-drop silence.
“AC Sanusi earned a place in the Service after that encounter. He also earned my admiration as a young Deputy Superintendent of Customs.
“Our path was to cross again when I was posted to Apapa prior to the commencement of the second phase of the NCS and  NPA port reforms, which coincided in 2006.
” AC Sanusi was the APM and  I was the PRO of the Command.
“The NCS reforms included migration from basic  ASYCUDA to ASYCUDA 2.0, the use of the precursor to PAAR called Risk Assessment Report RAR, the introduction of e- Payment regime and the introduction of Non-Intrusive Cargo examination- Scanners all with Apapa Port as the pilot Command.
“On the other hand and going on simultaneously was the port concession which saw NPA handing over to private sector owners of the port facilities.
“The challenges then were enormous, but we survived all through DCG Sanusi’s diligence with the then Comptroller Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo.
“It was a milestone for me and indeed for the senior officer then AC Sanusi. I learnt a lot from him.
“Yet another remarkable encounter with DCG Sanusi was at the NCS Headquarters when he was appointed ACG Headquarters.
“I had gone to greet him and pay homage when he did the “unthinkable” at least in my little understanding of life then.
“After taking my compliments, he offered me a seat and of course, I refused to seat in his presence as an Assistant Comptroller out of courtesy.
“He said ‘Nnadi, I have observed that we are not close anymore and I think this is an opportunity for me to address it’. I was shocked and said it wasn’t so.
“What he said next shocked me. He said ” I know I offended you but I  want to use this opportunity to apologise and request that you work closely with me. As ACG HQ, I will need you around me since you are in SR&P”.
“I  responded that I did not know that he offended me being his junior who respect and admire him. He said I should never mind.
“He offered me a gift, stepped out, shook my hands and gave me a hug.
“I left his office confused, overwhelmed with emotions and thereafter held in greater esteem and awe. His loss is a personal one to me.
“Farewell DCG Umar Sanusi. NCS and indeed Nigeria lost a gem” Nnadi sobbed.
The deceased, Sanusi, who retired in 2019 as DCG, Human Resources Department, died after a brief illness in the early hours of Sunday, 26th March 2023.
Sanusi was earlier appointed Assistant Comptroller General Customs (ACG), Headquarters by Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), in 2015 before he was promoted to DCG in 2018.
Announcing his death, the Public Relations Officer, PTML command of the Service, SC Yakubu Muhammed said
“With heavy heart,i notify us of the demise of DCG AU Sanusi(Rtd).

“He passed on about an hour ago at a private hospital in Abuja. The Janaza prayers hold after the Zuhr prayers (1 pm) at the National Mosque, Abuja In Shaa Allah,”

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