17.11.2022

Three Russian seafarers from the M/V Soya returned to Russia

Today, at about 7 a.m., a Chief Engineer, a Cook and a Motorman from the crew of a vessel detained in Egypt have arrived  to Moscow and from there they will go home - to Kazan, Kerch and Sochi. Three Bulgarian crew members of "Soya" have been released either and left the country. Two more Russians -  the Captain and the Chief Officer, both are from Kerch, still remain in jail, nobody knows how long it can last: according to representatives of the Russian consulate in Alexandria, another court hearing is to be held on November 21, it is expected that the arrest of the seafarers will be extended for another 15 days. The crew members returned to their homeland told about the inhuman conditions of detention in Egypt, from where they managed to escape.

As is known,  eight crew members of m/v "Soya" were arrested on November 4 as  28 tons of the medical drug "Tramadol" were found on board the vessel inside three containers. While in Russia this medical drug is included in the list of vital and essential drugs as it is an opioid synthetic analgesic, which is widely used for serious injuries, surgeries and advanced forms of oncology, in Egypt, as well as in a number of other countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, etc.), it is included in the list of narcotic drugs and banned from import.

Prior to this the sailors had already been in Turkey for a long time: November 23 will be exactly seven months since they arrived in the country to replace the crew but had to wait for the crew change  on the shore for about two more months. When the Russians finally embarked they found out that the vessel was in a very poor condition and needed repair, which took several more months. Then the vessel set sail to Alexandria.

So,  the "Soya" approached Alexandria on the 2nd of November 2 and, after completing necessary documents, the vessel entered the port on the 4th of November. Originally, nothing suggested trouble ahead: an agent came on board and took the documents, as usual. However, three hours later everything changed - several dozen armed policemen with dogs suddenly burst on board. "They kicked all of us into the aft deck and began to search the cabins without our involvement. There were no witnesses: they were doing what the wanted, took our personal belongings, broke them,  rummaged through all the cabins and even ripped pillows to find something, " - the ship's cook told later.

The crew watched those actions with  absolute incomprehension. According to their relatives, policemen roughly opened the containers, somehow tested the pills right on board, which appeared to contain no narcotic substances.

After the search was over, the seafarers dressed  just in shorts and slippers were taken to the police station located at the port.  For two days the seafarers, one at a time,  were taken for interrogations, were threatened with imprisonment for a term of 25 years or the death penalty. The policemen asked them questions about the cargo, asked what each of the crew had been doing during the loading. "We told them exactly the way  it went down, nobody concealed anything", - the Motorman shared.  

The conditions of detention were inhuman: there were just 3 chairs in the cell where 8 people were placed. The seafarers told that they were given neither food nor water. The seafarers repeatedly  asked to call a consul, but some sham people speaking Russian came instead.   

After the next request to call a consul the captain and the cook were allowed to go on board the vessel and bring back  some food for the crew. "There was a complete mess in the cabins, all our   personal belongings and technical devices were missing. There were nearly nothing left of my stuff  in the cabin. They took all my things: my laptop, powerbank, hair trimmer  and all things

I had bought for my kid and my wife" the cook told.

As the seafarers were  leaving the vessel they noticed a policeman took bags from the cabin of the Russian motorman. The policemen were rejecting that fact, but finally, after the seafarers raised a stink the motorman got his money, which were among his personal things, back.  "I got beat up a little bit because  I had required my things back -  a suitcase stuffed with numerous presents for my daughter, my wife and mother-in-law. Any way, at the end I did not get these things back though I had written a statement in English and tried to explain everything to them", - the motorman recalled. 

Throughout our time in prison, no one cared about our rights, we were treated like terrorists, like cattle, - the  Chief Engineer said.

Two days later the seafarers were taken to the prosecutor's office and interrogations continued there. Here, too, there was a concrete cell, lime, dirt, absolute insanitary conditions, a terrible smell, - the senior mechanic shared. - There were no toilets, in the corner there were bottles of urine left after someone. For five days from morning until about 2 a.m. we had been held  in such conditions. At night we were brought to another police station: there was a cell with a concrete floor, a toilet, very cold water many of us got sick, the rest were trying to hang on. Our daily food  was limited by tortilla, Feta cheese and cucumber, people from the  neighboring cell gave us a little food. During these days all our requests to provide a Russian-speaking lawyer, to contact the consul, to call to our families  led to nothing. 

No one  explained seafarers  what was going on. The testimonies of the crew were recorded and given to them to sign without translation from Arabic  into Russian or into English at least. 

We signed them, although we couldnt  understand a word, the Cook  said. Then, according to the seafarers, the Captain and the Chief Officer were taken to court hearing where  they hardly understood anything as the interpreter constantly came ang went away. Then the Russians were taken to the migration department, where they looked through  the remaining documents that had not been torn up or lost, and then they were taken back to the cell without any explanations.  

In general, a lack of understanding of what was happening, as well as the hellish conditions of detention, accompanied the seafarers  throughout their entire time of detention. At the second to last day a Russian-speaking Egyptian came to us, apparently from the Egyptian consulate. He said that everything was fine, we were not to blame for anything, and they would soon send us home, - recalls the Chief Engineer. - He promised that tomorrow the representatives of the Russian consulate would come. The captain was brought the necessary medicines for diabetes.

However, the seafarers failed to meet with the consul. In the evening a lawyer came to see them. It should be mentioned that previously a certain lawyer wrote to the relatives of the crew and offered his services to defend the detained seafarers. However, the Seafarers' Union of  Russia (SUR) advised them not to contact him in any case and wait until the consul arrives, because there was a high probability of dealing with a scammer. Nevertheless, the persistent lawyer demanded money from the seafarers  for his services and the purchase of tickets - about $3,000, which they barely scraped together from the remaining funds. That night  the seafarers  - three Bulgarians and three Russians - with the exception of the Captain and the Chief Officer - were taken to Cairo to be deported.

In fact, they did not fly away that time. On arrival at the airport, it turned out that the lawyers booked tickets but didn't pay for them, - the cook said.  - So, we were sitting on the mats at the airport for some time and returned back to Alexandria.

Four hours drive there, four hours drive back, - the Chief Engineer added. - We were brought to Alexandria by about 6 p.m. The consul had already gone, we missed him. That is, we were specially taken away from there so that we could not tell the consul anything about the lawlessness that was happening, about the fact that we were robbed. That evening was the first time for all the period of our detentions we ate a good  meal  - the food  was brought from the consulate for six people. About two hours late r we were again taken back to Cairo. That is, we were  taken  from Cairo to Alexandria and back several times for almost two days.

In Cairo the Russians spent about 10 hours in a cold metal cage in handcuffs. All this time they were not fed, they were not given water and they were not even allowed to go to the toilet. They were abusing us and didnt let us out, - the Motorman said. - When we asked to go to a toilet  they gave us a bottle with words do it into here. Moreover, they threatened to add  15 days more of imprisonment if something fell on the floor. In general, it was indescribable, but we survived somehow.

Finally, the seafarers boarded a plane to Dubai and then flew to Moscow. We could tell a lot more, but, to be honest, we just want to forget this whole story like a bad dream, - the cook admitted.

It should be noted that the SUR immediately informed  ITF Arab World and Iran Network Coordinator  Mohamed Arrachedi about the difficult  situation the crew of Soya had found themselves. At the moment he is also dealing with the situation:  ITF will to provide seafarers with a qualified lawyer as soon as possible, the consul has already been informed about it. The consul is  to visit the seafarers next week again : according to him, visits are only allowed once a week. The consulate informed the relatives that the Captain and the Chief Officer  were provided with food, a certain amount of cash, a cash deposit so they could pay for some necessary things, and warm blankets. In the near future, they also promise to hand over the required medicines to the Chief Officer.

The SUR believes that the arrest of the seafarers of the Soya is an excessive measure since the crew cannot carry any cargo at their discretion. The duty of seafarers is solely to ensure the safety  of cargo during shipment. Given that the cargo is said to have been in containers that are usually locked and sealed, the crew has no access to their contents.


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