“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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NIMASA set to open Lokoja office to harness waterways resources
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.
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.
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