For 86 Indian seafarers languishing at Tanjung Uban anchorage in Indonesia for nearly five months over allegations of breaching the Southeast Asian country's territorial waters there seems to no end to their ordeal. Despite efforts from Indian External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi and Indian Embassy in Jakarta, the rampant corruption and excessive red tape afflicting Indonesian judiciary is dwindling the hope of these seamen returning to their homes and reuniting with their families.
Their traumatic experience began when five commercial vessels that they were manning anchored at East of Singapore Straits on EOPL (Easter-Outer-Port-Limit) waters on February 8 and 9 awaiting further orders from charterers, companies that booked their services. They were of the opinion that they were still in international waters.
As the sea boundaries of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are in close proximity and it was crowded on north side of EOPL, their vessels moved to east of EOPL without realising that the position fell under the territorial baseline of state of Indonesia, said Captain Lawrence A D’Souza of MT (Motor Tanker) SG Pegasus, one of the five vessels stranded in Indonesia. The other four are: MT Win Win, MT Afre Oak, MT Bliss, and MT Agros. As many as 23 Indians are aboard MT SG Pegasus, while the remaining are on four other stranded vessels.
Although initially eight such commercial vessels were held captive by the Indonesian Navy, three were let off in matter of days after the ship owners paid hefty bribes to the authorities concerned for their release, said Moosa Kunhi, a crew member on MT SG Pegasus and hailing from Kerala. Since other owners are unable to pay the bribe, their vessels are still held in captive.
The Indian Ambassador to Indonesia Pradeep Kumar Rawat visited the crew members at Tanjung Uban anchorage on May 24 and assured them of repatriation and release, nothing has been done so far as Indonesian Navy claims that the matter is subjudice and within the realm of Indonesian judiciary.
With no resolution in sight, both sailors and their families back home finding it difficult to keep their spirits high and remain optimistic. The sailors hail from Delhi, Bihar, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.