On his deathbed, Rana Sarfaraz vowed to take his murderers to court. The 37-year-old sea marshal spent 13 months in the open seas before he died on August 29 hungry, sick and too weak to move.
Sarfaraz and his friend Umer Khanzada had been hired on a six-month contract by an agent named Asad Iqbal Gill. Their job was to provide security to the Jet Mark 726, a Taiwanese fishing vessel. But once aboard the ship, the men realised what a huge mistake they had made.
As a general practice Pakistani middlemen recruit sea marshals, fix a contract and send them off to foreign companies. In this case, the Pakistani company Cosmic Transportation and Chartering Network hires employees for an Australian company named Shian International. Bahria Security provides the sea marshals licensed weapons. While sailing, the captains refuse to take care of them and the recruits become the responsibility of the middlemen.
“While the captain had meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables for his crew, he only gave us a few cans of fish, half a kilo of sugar and a bottle of coffee, which was to last for the entire 13 months we sailed,” recalls Khanzada, who survived to narrate the horrific ordeal.
On board, the two friends developed a disease called acute pulmonary oedema. “Our bodies swelled, our gums began bleeding and we could barely breathe.”
In February 2013, their six-month contract expired. But they were not relieved of their duties. Their repeated calls for help were ignored. In April, they managed to contact their employers through a fax machine at the vessel.
Copies of the fax messages available with The News reveal 20 messages were sent to the employers over the period of seven months; with each call for help more desperate than the previous. The last message on August 16, a few days before Sarfaraz died, stated: “Our food stock is over. Our bodies and gums are swollen. We cannot walk. Call us back.”
Stranded in the middle of the sea with nowhere to go, the two men were confined to a tiny room and their beds. “When Sarfaraz died the captain did not believe us. He said we were lying, pulling up an act.”
Khanzada takes a few minutes to pull himself together, then continues: “A kind crewmember performed the funeral rites [of Sarfaraz], washed the body, wrapped it in a bed sheet, and placed it in the cold storage with the fish catch. By then I had no strength to move.”
It was only after a human life was lost, the captain realised the seriousness of the situation. On August 30, a barely alive Khanzada was taken to a hospital in Mauritius. Sarfaraz’s body was flown back to Pakistan, where a mourning brother, a widow and four children awaited.
Rana Israr, the victim’s brother, says there have been no explanations or compensations. “Gill slipped Rs10,000 in my pocket. I kept asking how could a healthy young man die? Was there no treatment given at the ship? I never received a reply.”
Gill, who heads the Cosmic Transportation and Chartering Network, refuses to take the blame of Sarfaraz’s death. “I am just a middleman. According to my knowledge, Rs1.1 million have been paid in compensation to the family.” But the family awaits.
A tycoon, who has been in the fishing industry for 25 years, requesting anonymity says that this case is the perfect example of criminal negligence at the hand of the employers. “This is modern slavery. This was murder, a total disregard for human life.”
The industrialist maintains Pakistani men are not made for a life at sea, and should be released after two months. “Unfortunately, fishy recruiters hoodwink men, promising them exaggerated financial gains. Several lives are lost this way every year.”
Dr Abdur Razzaq, a criminal law expert, says the employers should be tried under the Fatal Accident Act, 1855. The law states when an employee dies due to criminal negligence of the employer, the aggrieved family should receive compensation. The court decides the compensation based on the economic worth of an individual. The employer has to pay the aggrieved family the victim’s annual earnings for the rest of his life. Pakistani laws define the average life of a person as 70 years.
“So in this case, the company should pay Sarfaraz’s family for 33 years,” Razzaq maintains. “Apart from financial compensations, there is non-financial compensation as well.”
originally published here