In Bangladesh with no food: Ship owner leaves crew in the lurch

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The crew of a crippled Vietnamese ship being held in a house in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The vessel owner refused to spend money to rescue them, but its Bangladeshi customer did, and is holding them until the money is repaid.

The crew members of a crippled Vietnamese ship said Friday that their company has washed its hands off them and its customer in Bangladesh has stopped paying for their food.

Tran Dinh Son, a crew member, sent an email to Lao Dong newspaper saying the all-Vietnamese crew is stuck in Bangladesh after the vessel owner Anh Son Commercial Transport Company in the northern city of Hai Phong and insurer PetroVietnam Insurance Company cannot agree on which one of them is responsible for paying the money required to rescue them.

Son and 12 others are living in poor conditions in Chittagong after the 4,374-ton MV Anh Son was towed there for repairs in late July.

The company's retailer in Bangladesh, which was giving them VND500,000 (US$24) a day for food for 13 people, has stopped giving them even that, he said.

"We only have a little rice left for porridge for the next five days. And then we don't know what to do." He had sent that email last Friday.

The boat lost its rudder on June 26 around 32 nautical miles off the Indian coast, and was towed to Bangladesh for repair.

There had been 15 people aboard, but Captain Nguyen Linh and Chief Engineer Bui Van Be flew home for treatment after being injured in a mutiny on board.

The retailer paid the towing fee of US$120,000 and docking fee so far of around $80,000. It is holding the men in the hope of getting the money back.

It is keeping all their licenses.

"It asked for our passports and other papers as well, but we refused since we were afraid we could be held hostage," Son said.

If there is no improvement by the end of this month, they might seek help from Vietnam's embassy in Bangladesh, he said.

"We're very worried and anxious as we don't know if we're going to get any help."

Nguyen Thi Thuy Huong, the wife of mechanic Ho Quang Tho, said she has received little help from government agencies.

She has written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Maritime Department. The former did not give her any assurances, while the latter ordered Anh Son Company to "discharge all the responsibilities as a ship owner to guarantee proper work and living standards for the crew members by September 6."

But the deadline expired long ago, and the men's conditions in Chittagong have only worsened.

Lao Dong contacted Nguyen Thi Lanh, the director of Anh Son Company, on September 19 and she said "the boat is a national asset" and that she was on a trip and could not comment further.

The crew say it is not the first time the company has turned its back on them.

They have only been paid salaries until May, with some only getting half that month's salary.

Several of the crew members have personal problems.

Tran Dinh Duc, for instance, has severe stomachache, while his 87-year-old father is very sick, and his wife is thinking about selling their home to meet expenses.

Ho Minh Si's wife is in hospital and there is no one to care for his two little children.

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