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Dubai ship explosion captain forced to give up home, but wins freedom thanks to ITF

26 Jan 2023
The explosion at the Jebel Ali Port caused when a container exploded as it was being loaded on to the MV OCEAN TRADER in 2021
The explosion at the Jebel Ali Port caused when a container exploded as it was being loaded on to the MV OCEAN TRADER in 2021

The master of a ship on which a container exploded during loading at the Jebel Ali Port in Dubai in July 2021 has finally been allowed home to India thanks to support from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). However, to secure his freedom, the seafarer had to sell his house to pay a significant fine imposed by a Dubai court.

Happier times: Master of the MV OCEAN TRADER, seafarer captain Santosh Kumar, has endured 18 months without freedom following a workplace explosion onboard his vessel in Dubai

Captain Santosh Kumar, who happened to be in charge of MV Ocean Trader (IMO 9056739) on the night of an horrific incident, has endured 18 months of police investigations and legal wrangles during which he was not allowed to leave Dubai,  the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Unable to leave, he was prevented him from working to support his family. He has protested his innocence throughout.

After Kumar received little help from the ship’s owner, Sash Shipping Corp (a company registered in Panama), or its managers Inzu Ship Charter LLC (based in the UAE), the ITF stepped in to arrange legal representation and accommodation during the year and a half when he was unable to work.

Kumar is still owed wages totaling thousands of US dollars, his claim dating back to March 2021. His lawyers continue to pursue the outstanding wages on his behalf.

In August 2022, the seafarer was prosecuted over the affair in the Dubai Court of First Instance, along with nine other individuals and companies (including Inzu) representing ship managers and cargo handlers. He was found guilty of 'causing a fire by mistake to others' properties', given a one-month prison sentence suspended for three years, and fined AED100,000 (around USD $27,500). An appeal hearing in November was unsuccessful.

The explosion hit the headlines around the world, making this a high-profile case and putting pressure on everyone involved,” said Steve Trowsdale, the ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator. “The aftermath has been gruelling for Captain Santosh who, in my view, behaved with honour and probably saved lives on the day. I am delighted he has finally been able to go back to India.”

ITF Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale | (Credit: ITF)

Horrific experience for worker

Dubai authorities would not allow Kumar to leave the UAE until the fine was paid and having received no wages from his employers in nearly two years, his only option was to sell his house in India. After paying the fine and clearing a few further legal hurdles, he was able to go home earlier this month.

“It has been an horrific experience for Captain Kumar,” said Trowsdale, “but at least now he can work again and start to rebuild his life. The ITF is proud of its role in helping individual seafarers who find themselves in this kind of deep trouble. But I cannot help but note that it is often only necessary because employers do not live up to their responsibilities.”

Captain Kumar takes steps towards freedom alongside Willy Nebria, Welfare Officer at the Mission to Seafarers in Dubai, UAE 



About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation of transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the almost-20 million women and men who move the world.

We are the global voice of the millions of seafarers and their unions who move the world.

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