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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Five Indian Seafarers Stranded In Iran

Arrested On false Charges Of Narcotics Smuggling, Initially Acquitted But Were Held Again

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
I am a mumbai based journalist having worked with many daily newspapers.

INDIA. Mumbai: Five Indian seafarers, who were arrested in Iran in February last year and were released on March 9 this year, are yet to return to India as the Iranian authorities have not returned their documents till now.

In a video message, all the five seafarers appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their early repatriation. They recorded the video in Chabahar, situated in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan. This is the same Chabahar where India is building a port worth $200 million. The video message was telecast on most of the Indian TV channels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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In a message the seafarers said that  “We languished in jail here for over 400 days on false charges trumped-up by our ship owners and agents. We are innocent. Yet we suffered in prison and finally we were released. Despite being proven not guilty, Iranian officials have neither returned our passports nor given us our identification documents. Our lives are in danger. Why isn’t our mission informed of our status? We have no means to earn money since we have no documents.”

The five Indian youth seafarers are: Aniket S Yenpure(29), (Mumbai, Maharashtra), Mandar M Worlikar(26) (Mumbai, Maharashtra), Naveen Singh (Bageshwar, Uttarakhand), Pranav Kumar(21)  (Saran, Bihar), and Thamizhselvan Rengsamy (31) (Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu).

The case

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Holding valid qualifications and documents, they had flown to Iran to join merchant navy ships in 2019, through an Indian agent. All the excited youngsters on their maiden sea-jobs were doing their duties enthusiastically. They began working on a cargo ship, ‘MV Artin10’ (IMO No. 8921561), carrying an Iranian flag, owned by an Iranian, Razaee Mukkadam.

The ship’s master, Capt. M. Rasool Gharebi took them on board for a series of long voyages lasting around 6-7 weeks, sailing from Iran to Kuwait, Muscat (Oman), and other ports, delivering different types of cargo. However an incident took place on February 20, 2020 on a ship, which changed the course of their lives. In the afternoon on that day, Capt. Gharebi suddenly ordered the ship to stop in the high seas and drop anchor, around 140 km from Muscat. A few hours later, another vessel came and unloaded what appeared to be small ‘rice bags’ on the ship. However, it was 1.50 tonnes of banned narcotics.

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Since this mid-sea cargo transfer was illegal as per international maritime laws, Worlikar and his co-crew quietly recorded it on their mobile phones, as evidence for the Customs and Iran Police authorities at the next port. Unexpectedly, the very next morning (February 21, 2020), an Iran Navy ship intercepted and arrested them all on the high seas and transferred them to the naval ship.

The five Indians were also offloaded at the same port town, arrested by the local Counter-Narcotics Department, and shunted to custody by a Konarak Court. Even Capt. Gharebi and later the shipowner Mukkadam were nabbed. During interrogation, Capt. Gharebi admitted that the Indian crew were innocent and had no knowledge of the illicit cargo transfer operation.

Their case was subsequently transferred from Konarak Court to the Chabahar Court which found them innocent on March 8, 2021, and ordered their immediate release. When they went to collect their passports and other documents, the CounterNarcotics Department in Konarak re-arrested them and produced them before the Konarak Court. The Konarak Court also ordered their forthwith release as per the Chabahar Court ruling but withheld their travel and other documents leaving them high and dry there since March 10 this year.

“In April, we were informed that the Konarak Court had raised certain objections to the Chabahar Court verdict and the matter was transferred to the Supreme Court of Iran. After two months, in end-June 2021, the Iran apex court struck down the Chabahar Court judgment. We have no clue of what lies ahead,” one of the seafarers Aniket said.

Indian World Forum

Meanwhile, an organization, the Indian World Forum (IWF), has written a letter seeking PM Modi’s intervention in the matter. Puneet Singh, president of the Indian World Forum, has been in touch with the five seafarers and their families. In his letter, he has mentioned details of the five people, contacts of their families, and the details of the agents who hired them.

IWF also urged the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Ministry of Shipping to take stringent punitive action against the Recruitment and Services Placement Agents and all other accused involved in this ordeal,”. the press release said.

Speaking to the “Transcontinental Times”, Shyam Yenpure, father of Aniket, and Ranjana Worlikar, mother of Mandar said that besides the prime minister, they would also seek the intervention of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to ensure early repatriation of all the seafarers.

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