The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Qawra shipwreck crew on way back home

Rebecca Iversen Wednesday, 28 February 2018, 10:52 Last update: about 3 years ago

The crew of a ship that ran aground in Qawra on the feast of St Paul had nothing but words of praise to the Maltese people who helped them after their ordeal.

“I will never forget them,” were Captain Joynal Abedin’s last remarks, before the whole crew was escorted by police to the airport to fly back to their home countries.

The crew, made up of five Bangladeshis and two Russians, left Malta Tuesday. They had been at sea for four months before the shipwreck. After the shipwreck, they were offered shelter at the Seafarers’ Centre, in Floriana.

The Togo-registered vessel, the 885-tonne Hephaestus, ran aground in Qawra not far from the site where St Paul and St Luke, according to the Bible, were shipwrecked about 2,000 years ago. The ship ran aground in a thunderstorm and northerly Force 6 to winds when it was approaching Malta.

The bunkering vessel, which still remains aground in Qawra, was reported to have fuel leak a week after the shipwreck. The Maltese maritime authorities had confirmed that the tanker had no cargo and that there had been no risk of pollution because the vessel had not been carrying heavy oil. Transport Malta had then confirmed that the leak consisted of a “minor diesel sheen” which had seeped out from the vessel. Both Transport Malta and Environment Resources Authority had assured that the sheen remained on the surface of water and would eventually evaporate.

Speaking to The Malta Independent yesterday, Abedin personally thanked Port and Freeport Chaplain Fr Joe Borg who housed the crewmen at Seafarers’ Centre, which sits alongside the Ta’ Liesse church in Valletta. He also thanked Paul Falzon, from the International Transport Workers’ Federation and “all the Maltese people who have been very nice”.

Abedin described the experience the crew went through when the vessel they were on hit the rocks at Qawra. “It was sudden. A cyclone emerged near the coast of Malta about one and half miles away. We could not fight it and so we started to hit the rocks and that’s when I called for rescue. Thankfully I saved my whole crew,” he said.

Paul Falzon, the ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation representative, explained his satisfaction that the crew was finally going home. He described how it was not easy to keep the crew in Malta while planning for their departure, because they were third country nationals with no visas. “Technically they were here illegally but due to cooperation with the police we managed to keep them here at the shelter”.

Photos/Video - Baskal Mallia

The ITF is a general workers union for sailors. Falzon explained that according to maritime law, once it appeared that the owner of ship had abandoned the vessel, the crew had the right to apply for financial security from the ship’s insurance company. The union also made sure that the crew members received their salaries for the two months. According to the Maritime Convention, they received their salaries due to them for the period November-February.

Fr Borg who housed the crew men described how the centre is there for sailors who find themselves in difficulty. “This shipwreck is the perfect example for why we’re here” he said. He noted how the seven seamen where left with nothing but the clothes they wore, adding that they had lost many of their possessions. “We received donations, one considerable donation from the arch bishop,” Fr Borg stated.

The crew embraced Fr Borg as they departed, thanking him for his generosity and care. Fr Borg light heartedly told one crew member he would see him next in Bangladesh.

The seafarers’ centre opened its doors in 2016 following collaboration between the Apostleship of the Sea Malta, the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation and the Transport Ministry.

It was furnished with the help of the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

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