Sharjah: He has not seen his family since March 2016. His ship has been stranded in the UAE for a year and he has not been paid all this while. He could not go home when his father passed away five months back. Now his wife is in the ICU of a hospital following a heart attack.
Sri Lankan sailor Shantha Rajapaksha has been fighting immense odds while his vessel MV Sharjah Moon remains stranded in the UAE waters.
Six of his Indian colleagues, who spent one year with him aboard the vessel, were repatriated last month, but 55-year-old Rajapaksha still awaits the day when he will be able to return home.
Being the chief engineer, Rajapaksha was not allowed to sign off the ship without someone else replacing him to look after the vessel which docked at the Hamriya Port in Sharjah on May 9. As reported first by Gulf News, the vessel has been anchored in the UAE waters since July 2016. The sailors were stranded with no salary and has had disrupted supplies of food, water and fuel. Fed up with the false promises of the company, Alco Shipping, the crew docked the vessel at the Hamriya Port without permission and sought the help of the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
Speaking to Gulf News on Thursday over phone, Rajapaksha said his wife suffered a heart attack on July 22 when she got to know that all other crew members were leaving the next day and that he would be all alone aboard the ship.
“A couple of days before, she had experienced chest pain when our car back home, which I had taken on lease, was seized by the company because we hadn’t paid the instalments for eight months,” he said.
“Now she is in a critical stage in the ICU and my children are crying. My son is not eating food ... The doctors have said she needs to be operated on at the earliest. This morning too, the doctor called me and said, ‘You need to come immediately, we need to perform the operation’.”
The father of three broke into tears as he explained his family’s ordeal.
“My wife has been borrowing money from her siblings after I stopped sending money. She has been always worried about how she is going to manage all alone. I could never answer her as I never apprised her of the real situation I have been in. My younger kids stopped going to school three months back.”
He said his company, Alco Shipping, had sent Dh10,000 to his family when his father died in March. “I was not allowed to go home then. The company still has to pay me a pending salary of Dh69,000.”
Rajapaksa said that his eldest daughter, who is married, is currently taking care of her siblings and mother. “But I need to go and give consent for my wife’s surgery and also give money for it. My company has not got a reliever for me even after I have explained all these issues.”
Three new crew members were recruited for the vessel after the previous group of Indians flew home following the persistent efforts of the Indian Consulate in Dubai and the Federal Transport Authority of the UAE.
The Sri Lankan Consulate in Dubai said its officials had visited Rajapaksha and were pressuring the company to repatriate him after paying him his pending salary.
An employee of Alco Shipping said the management was aware of the issues and was working accordingly. The owner was not available for comment.