The 15 members of the crew of an Indian ship, the "Spring Bay", are being held by the Mozambican authorities in the southern province of Inhambane until fees owing to the Mozambican state are paid, reports Tuesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".

The "Spring Bay" is an obsolete refrigerated cargo ship, built in 1987, and flying the flag of St. Kitts and Nevis.

The ship travelled from India to Maputo, and on the return journey the crew claimed it suffered a serious breakdown off the coast of Jangamo district in Inhambane.

The Inhambane maritime administrator, Americo Sitoe, was suspicious of the supposed breakdown. The ship's call for help was sent at night 95 miles from the Jangamo coast, yet the following morning the "Spring Bay" was just two miles from the coast. This suggested that the ship\s engines were working and that it approached the coast under its own steam.

Sitoe believed that the true purpose of the breakdown story was a cover for eventually scuttling the ship off the Mozambican coast, in order to claim over two million dollars on the insurance. The ship was at the end of its useful life, and once it returned to India it was to be scrapped.

The ship no longer seems to be in Mozambican waters. It was towed away last week by an unidentified tug supposedly for maintenance work at a dock in Madagascar, after which it would continue its journey to India.

In this operation the recommendations of Mozambican maritime safety inspectors were not followed. All the ship's equipment was turned off, including the device indicating the vessel's whereabouts. The Mozambican authorities have no way of knowing whether it went to Madagascar or not.

The ship also left its crew in Jangamo, and the authorities have decided they cannot leave until the money owing to the state has been paid. The cost of the assistance provided by the authorities since the ship appeared off the Jangamo coast is 896,390 meticais (about 11,950 US dollars, at current exchange rates).

A man claiming to be a ship's agent (although he carried no proof of this) gave the authorities two cheques to cover these costs. It seems that there is not enough money in the account they were drawn on, since the maritime administration is still waiting for the cheques to clear.

Sitoe pointed out that the "Spring Bay" should not have lifted anchor and left Jangamo before all money owing had been paid.

He feared there had been some complicity between the ship's owners and members of the Mozambican National Naval Institute (INAMAR), since somebody in INAMAR had authorized the ship to leave without observing international shipping norms.

Furthermore, the "Spring Bay" had left Maputo without the necessary clearance documents from the customs, immigration, health and maritime administration authorities. In a further violation of shipping norms, the ship's owners did not make the obligatory deposit to cover any environmental damage it might cause while in Mozambican waters.

Source: Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique