The Maritime and Port Bureau has agreed to the entry of nine Burmese sailors to relieve eight Indonesian crewmen who have been stuck on their cargo vessel for over seven months in Kaohsiung Port.

The Burmese sailors are currently having their visas processed by Taiwan’s representative office in Myanmar and are expected to come to Taiwan to relieve the Indonesian crewmen who have been on the Togo-registered Jian Ye since it was towed into Kaohsiung Port in February, the bureau, which is the nation’s port authority under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), told CNA Tuesday.

The vessel was towed to the southern port city to avoid disaster and potentially causing pollution in the sea after it lost power near Taiwan’s territorial waters, the bureau said.

The bureau did not give an approximate date for when the sailors from Myanmar will arrive in Taiwan or for how long they will undergo quarantine, but said that last week they approved plans for their arrival and that the crew exchange was expected to be completed in one day.

This development comes after the Indonesian crewmen provided a joint statement letter to CNA last month that said they had not received any of their regular wages and had been unable to leave their 74.07-meter-long, 1,395-ton vessel since it was towed into Kaohsiung Port on Feb. 23.

Taiwan’s MOTC is forcing them to stay on their vessel until a new crew comes to relieve them, the Indonesian sailors said in the letter.

The crew have been urging Taiwan’s government to allow them to return to Indonesia so they can reunite with their loved ones and look for new jobs to support their families.

Kaohsiung-based Stella Maris Chaplin Father Ansensius Guntur, CS, who visits the sailors, told CNA that the MOTC is not allowing the crew to leave in order to avoid the vessel being abandoned.

However, the sailors finished their contracts on Sept. 6 when they each signed an agreement to terminate their employment with their former employer, the Indonesian priest said.

According to a statement of the agreement, each sailor received US$700 (NT$22,216) in cash but had to agree to waive their rights to file civil and criminal claims and complaints.

Furthermore, each sailor will also have their air tickets from Kaohsiung to Jakarta and related expenses for leaving Kaohsiung paid for, according to the agreement.

The sailors said they all agreed with the arrangement and only wished to go back to Indonesia as soon as possible.

Taiwan’s Legal Aid Foundation, originally tasked with providing legal aid to the crew, told CNA last month that the US$700 given to each Indonesian sailor came from the new owner of the vessel.

Despite the vessel having a new owner, the Indonesian sailors just want to leave and go back to Indonesia without taking their demand for unpaid wages to court, the Legal Aid Foundation said.

The Maritime and Port Bureau said in August that it could arrange, with the help of Indonesia’s government, for most of the sailors to return home before a crew exchange was completed, but about one-third of the crew would have to stay on the ship to deal with navigation safety issues.

The sailors rejected that offer, however, as they had no way of choosing who got to go home and who would stay behind, Guntur said.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News