Sri Lankan crew members freed

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The 13 Sri Lankan crew members of the detained cargo vessel Lankan Mahaphola, who were arrested for stealing scrap metal from the ship at the weekend, have been released.

Five of them were released from the holding cells of the Durban Magistrate’s Court yesterday after the withdrawal of the charges by Dr Sanjaya Sedara, the Sri Lankan owner of Triple S Shipping, which had leased Sri Lanka’s only cargo vessel.

The other eight were released on Tuesday night.

A representative from Triple S Shipping who was present at the court cells yesterday said the men would be flying back to Sri Lanka.

The vessel has been detained in Durban Harbour since May 17. It was attached in terms of a Durban High Court order regarding a wage dispute between Sedara and the 26-man crew, who were claiming $85 000 (R708 900) in outstanding wages.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority has also detained the ship because it allegedly did not comply with international safety standards.

The crew’s lawyer, Struan Mundell, who is also acting on behalf of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said the men had been at sea for months, sometimes drifting as they tried to repair the ship’s engine.

Sedara’s lawyer Nalini Maharaj said yesterday that the owner had promised to pay the crew and comply with the safety standards.

The men had told Mundell it was common practice for them to sell the scrap metal to earn pocket money. They said they had done so with the ship captain’s permission.

Maharaj said the men had needed the permission of the sheriff of the court to do so because the ship was attached.

Mundell said he would be applying for an order in the Durban High Court today to authorise the sale of the ship. Proceeds of the sale, he said, would be used to pay the crew.

The federation’s Durban inspector, Sprite Zungu, who the crew had contacted while at sea, told the 13 men not to fly back to Sri Lanka. “They must stay until they receive their wages, otherwise they won’t see this money,” he said. (Daily News South Africa)