On the road: Dubai
Recently I travelled to one of Dubai’s ports where I met with two seafarers from the Philippines. In a very dusty part of the harbour I came across their ship. This vessel had been converted for use as an anti-piracy vessel, but since the work has been completed, it has never seen the sea. These two seafarers have been employed since May 2012, but in all that time, they have not been outside the harbour. They have received no pay for more than a year and a legal dispute is ongoing between the somewhat anonymous owners and the company who did the conversion work. With legal obligations to ensure that the vessel is manned, with no access to their passports, no pay and no permission to leave the country, these two seafarers, like many others, have been caught powerlessly in the crossfire.
The welfare and pastoral implications are enormous, not least for their families back in the Philippines. They survive with the goodwill of other seafarers in the port and the support of the Mission, whose chaplain in Dubai, the Revd Dr Paul Burt, is working, along with others, very hard to bring a deeply unhappy situation to an end.
We then moved on to visit a ship, some of whose crew have expressed concerns that they have not been paid for some time. On investigation it transpires that most of the ship’s crew, and indeed other seafarers on vessels owned by the same company, have been unpaid in recent months. Again the implications for families are significant and worries are very understandable. A visit to the company by Paul suggested that this is a short term “cash flow problem” which will shortly be sorted, but we will see. What are crew to do? Break contract and leave with no pay, or hope that better things lie around the corner?
In another port that afternoon, after visiting the high quality, welcoming and busy Dubai International Seafarers’ Centre, we visited ships in a part of the harbour known by some as the Mogadishu Wharf, as many of its ships, most well past their best, are on the regular and dangerous run to Somalia through the High Risk Area. We were able to hand out gifts and spend time with crew from many different nations. One of the captains, a Syrian, welcomed us warmly to his cabin and told us something of the fears he has for his family back in Syria.
It was a day which reminded us of some of the realities of the lives of seafarers, which contrast markedly with the very obvious wealth of Dubai with its soaring skyscrapers and exotic malls.