The global trade union Nautilus International has secured the arrest of Indian Empress in Malta. It stems from what the union claims are more than $1 million in back wages owed to her crew.
The 312-foot (95-meter) Indian Empress belongs to Vijay Mallya, a flamboyant, high-profile Indian entrepreneur with business interests in alcohol and auto racing. Since acquiring the megayacht in 2006, Mallya has hosted numerous parties aboard during the Monaco Grand Prix. However, Mallya is also a fugitive living in England, facing charges of fraud in India. In April 2016, one month after he departed his native country for England, a court in Mumbai issued a warrant for his arrest. Banks claimed he willfully defaulted on more than $1.4 billion in debt accumulated by Kingfisher Airlines, which he founded in 2005. It ceased flying in 2012. In February 2017, India requested that England extradite Mallya. Two months later, Scotland Yard arrested him on an extradition warrant. Mallya has denied the allegations all along. Extradition hearings began in London in December.
Authorities sought to seize assets on behalf of the banks. While Indian Empress is not among them, Nautilus International asserts that Mallya abandoned her in Malta last September. (Publicly available AIS data reports confirm Indian Empress has been in Malta since at least October.)
Nautilus International says it succeeded in securing more than $615,000, the equivalent of four months’ wages, under provisions of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC). MLC, likened to a seafarer’s bill of rights, contains a financial security “safety net” provision. Under it, crews have a right to financial compensation in the event of abandonment. MLC defines abandonment, in part, as a situation where the owner has left the crew without the required maintenance and support, and failed to pay wages for at least two months. Nautilus International says the Indian Empress case represents the first application of the MLC’s safety net in yachting.
Nautilus International adds that Indian Empress’ insurer paid the crew the above-mentioned funds last week. Overall, though, it says, the 40-plus crewmembers are owed between $6,250 and more than $92,000. Therefore, it sought to have Indian Empress seized, to enforce a maritime lien for the rest of the wages, along with additional costs exceeding MLC’s coverage.
Danny McGowan, Nautilus International’s strategic organizer, says that the trade union had “no option but to take the case to the courts.” In a statement, he explains, the crew, who belong to the union, provided “multiple opportunities to pay monthly wages.” They further exhibited “a loyalty and restraint greater than many would show in such situations.” McGowan concludes, “These opportunities were regularly ignored by the owner.”
We requested commentary directly from Mallya. He did not respond by presstime.