WAITING: The Lanka Mahapola flies its new flag showing Zanzibar, Tanzania, as its port of registry.

Durban - The saga of the troubled Sri Lankan cargo vessel detained in the Durban Harbour continues, as allegations of its sale and change of flag resurface.

A well-placed Sri Lankan maritime source told the Daily News the government-owned ship was bought by the maritime company that had chartered the vessel and had also not paid for its use.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) said the MV Lanka Mahapola has changed flag from Sri Lanka to Tanzania, but it is not aware of a sale.

The vessel was first placed under arrest in May, after the Durban High Court granted an order for a maritime lien – the attachment of a ship as property in lieu of a debt.

The 26-member crew had enlisted the help of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, as they had not been paid $85 000 (R712 513) in wages and had complained of dreadful living and working conditions.

After an inspection, Samsa also detained the ship for not complying with international safety standards.

The authority’s CEO, Sobantu Tilayi, said the cargo vessel was “in a very bad state” and lacked valid certificates.

The ship has been docked in Durban since May 17. The crew has since been paid and returned to Sri Lanka in June.

The ship is run by Ceylon Shipping Corporation. It chartered the vessel to Triple S Shipping – a maritime company based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and owned by Dr Sanjaya Senarath, who is said to be related to the Sri Lankan president’s chief of staff.

Sri Lankan newspapers and a maritime source said the cargo vessel had stopped flying the Sri Lankan flag in June and was now flying the Tanzanian flag.

The source said its merchant shipping division had issued the Sri Lankan flag, and permission had to be sought from this division for a change of port registry to be accepted by another country.

“The flag was changed without the knowledge of the merchant shipping division. It is suspected forged documents were presented to the Tanzanian government to fly the flag of Zanzibar.”

The source said Triple S Shipping had not paid the corporation since the ship was chartered. Media reports say the Ceylon Corporation has sent a letter of demand for payment and the matter is in arbitration.

The original crew had detained the ship for non-payment of wages in December. That crew was paid and a new one hired.

Sri Lankan newspaper The Lanka Truth reported in July the ship was registered in early June using fraudulent documents and was attempting to leave Durban with the new registration.

Newspaper the Sunday Leader reported in June the Ceylon Corporation expected essential repairs to the ship to take little more than a week and expected it to return to them within a fortnight.

Samsa provincial spokesman Captain Saroor Ali said: “We won’t release the ship until she is seaworthy. This includes legal aspects such as its certification and registration documents.”

Ceylon Corporation general manager Sunil Obadage confirmed arbitration was currently in progress.

Speaking on behalf of Senarath, Nalini Maharaj, of Phipson de Villiers Attorneys in Durban, said Senarath denied allegations against him, calling it “political propaganda”.

Senarath, who is also the chairman of the Sri Lankan Ports Authority, said the ship had not been sold. - Daily News

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