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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

MARAN convokes national discourse on resurgence of maritime crimes in Gulf of Guinea

The Eyewitness Reporter
Worried by the recent resurgence of piracy incidents and security threats in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) in the first half of 2023, the Maritime Reporters’ Association of Nigeria (MARAN) is dedicating the maiden edition of the MARAN Annual Lecture (MAMAL) 2023 to Maritime Security.
Mr Godfrey Bivbere, President MARAN, said this in a statement in Lagos.
According to Bivbere, the inaugural edition of MAMAL 2023 is themed: “Maritime Security: Emerging Threats and Actionable Steps” .
“The theme is targeted at proffering long-term, sustainable solutions that will effectively address maritime crimes in the GoG region and protect seafaring and fishing communities in the affected countries,” he said.
Recall that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) report of July 2023 confirmed that the GoG witnessed a surge in maritime incidents in 2023, with five incidents in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter.
Out of these, 12 were classified as armed robberies and two as piracy, predominantly targeting anchored vessels in the region.
According to the IMB report, in these incidences, 14 crew were kidnapped, of which 8 crew members were taken from vessels anchored within the GoG territorial waters.
Additionally, in two separate hijackings, 31 crew members were held hostage, communication and navigation equipment were destroyed, and partial cargoes were stolen. One of these incidents also involved the abduction of 6 crew members.
He pointed out that MARAN, as the foremost umbrella body of journalists covering the Nigerian maritime sector, had identified and commended the collaborative initiatives and efforts of the Nigerian Navy.
The MARAN president noted that the initiative which was in partnership with other security agencies, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), other regional navies and maritime administrations led to a significant reduction in piracy incidents on Nigerian waters and the GoG throughout 2022.
He said that to a large extent, the establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum for the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (GOG-MCF/SHADE) had enabled stakeholders within and outside the region to connect and discuss frequently how best to tackle piracy in the area and this yielded verifiable results.
Bivbere pointed out that the effective deployment of Naval assets, warships, Falcon Eye, the Deep Blue Project assets, establishment of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime-related Offences Act 2019, among others are worthwhile accomplishments attributable to the Nigerian Navy in recent years.
He, however, said there was a need for consolidated efforts that would be explored at the summit.
“With the recent decision of China to join in the international anti-piracy effort in the Gulf of Guinea, MAMAL 2023 will also dissect the continuous presence of foreign navy frigates in the region for an evaluation of the positive impact and perceived threats.
“Following the recent extension of the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from 200 Nautical Miles to 350 Nautical Miles, MAMAL 2023 will be highlighting the capability of the Nigerian Navy and other agencies in providing adequate security for the zone,” he said.
The MARAN president said that the MAMAL 2023 had been scheduled to hold on the 24th of October 2023.
The Nigerian Navy, regional navies and other stakeholders in the maritime sector including Shipowners, NIMASA, Shipping Lines, Terminal Operators, Nigerian Shippers Council, and major seafarers organisations are all expected to attend this epoch-making event.
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Customs

Adeniyi, CGC, makes refresher course mandatory for officers ,matches them out on 5- kilometer fitness exercise in Abuja

Wale Adeniyi, Ag, CGC
The Eyewitness Reporter
The Acting Comptroller General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi, has continued to motivate the men and officers of the service with his innovative programmes that are meant to enhance their efficiency and professionalism.
The latest initiative of the CGC, whose ascendancy to the top cadre of the Customs has continued to energize the service, was the introduction of programmes aimed at enhancing the mental and physical alertness of officers.
Consequently, Adeniyi has made refresher course for officers from the Superintendent cadre mandatory every five years.
He made this known during the passing out parade of Course 1/2023 at the Nigeria Customs Service Training College in Ikeja, Lagos on Friday, September 22nd, 2023.
Speaking to the 81 Cadets who have successfully completed their training and passed out of the Training College after six months of rigorous preparation, Adeniyi charged them to uphold the highest level of integrity and professionalism while discharging their lawful duties.
He congratulated the cadets on their successful completion of training and welcomed them into the service.
He expressed hope for a better service, equipped them with knowledge and skills, and urged them to make a meaningful difference in the nation.
He emphasized the importance of discipline, good conduct, and the highest level of integrity in their actions, reminding them that they represent excellence and the Nigeria Customs Service.
While the CGC, on Friday, September 22nd, 2023, in Lagos announced the mandatory refresher course for officers to enhance their mental alertness, he however led the officers on a fitness exercise the following day, Saturday, September 23rd, 2023, in Abuja to enhance their physical alertness.
At the 5- 5-kilometre marathon walk tagged “Work-Life Balance” the CGC posited that the exercise was aimed at keeping officers physically and mentally fit to enable them to face their constitutional duties effectively.
The fitness exercise commenced in the early hours of Saturday, 23 September 2023, from Customs Headquarters Wuse Zone 3 to the newly built Customs House in Maitama Area, all in Abuja — the Federal Capital Territory.
The exercise was seen as one of the Ag. CGC’s strategic approach to enhance the agility of the officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service.
It involved officers and men of the Service, including members of the Management Team, and Representatives of Military and Paramilitary Institutions.
Adeniyi said that the physical exercise attests to the Customs’ commitment to consolidate on critical areas of national development, knotting ties with stakeholders and embracing technological innovations.
“As officers and men, we come under lots of pressure to fulfill various obligations, and most of the time, these pressures come from our workplaces — emanating from the nature of our tasks, which are usually physically and mentally demanding; thus, the exercise will help reduce such pressure for us and enhance our productivity at work,” he said.
According to him, the Nigeria Customs Service had, over the past 15 years, established 32 clinics and medical centres all over the country to take care of the officers’ health, adding that “as we embark on this journey, it is vital to understand the essence of this initiative and why we need to flag it off.”
He motivated them to continue to engage themselves in extra exercises such as jogging, mountain hiking, dancing and all other curricular activities while also urging them to embrace the work-life balance as it will continue to improve their health and also contribute to enhancing the efficiency of the Service.
The Customs Chief also mentioned that the exercise will facilitate the unity and love between Customs officers across the federation, saying that “participating in this brisk walking exercise fosters friendship and unity and sense of shared purpose amongst us.”
The brisk walking exercise was attended by Deputy Comptroller-Generals of Customs in charge of different Units, Assistant Comptroller-Generals, and all Comptrollers down to Assistant of Customs III. Other participants who graced the ‘Walk-Life Balance’ exercise were from the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, Nigerian Correctional Center, Immigration Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, and Nigeria Army.
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Headlines

NIMASA set to open Lokoja office to harness waterways resources

The Eyewitness Reporter

The Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, has disclosed that the Agency is set to reopen the Lokoja office, as part of efforts towards harnessing the Blue Economy, enhancing collaboration, while also promoting Research and Development.

The DG, who made this known when he played host to the Executive Secretary of the Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency (KADSEMA), Mal. Usman Hayatu Mazadu at the head office of the Agency in Lagos, noted that investment in research would play a major role in ensuring the harnessing of Nigeria’s maritime potentials.

“The key cardinal principle of opening the NIMASA Lokoja office is to improve on Research and Development.

“Our goal is to establish the nexus in maximizing the use of available resources in the nation’s inland waterways and the deep blue waters within 28 states, spanning over 4000 kilometers of inland waters and over 200 nautical miles of ocean resources; with the coming of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.

He said, “Now, the Blue Economy has come to stay and very soon you will see the impact of what we have; in terms of the gains and benefits to grow our Gross Domestic Product while improving the well-being of our own Economy”.

Earlier in his remarks, Mallam Usman of KADSEMA lauded the Agency for the feat achieved so far, which cuts across the entire Nigeria.

While seeking cooperation with the Agency in possible areas, he expressed the readiness of KADSEMA to support the Agency in areas that may be deemed possible.

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