An Indian sailor is preparing to return home – and eat butter chicken – after being stranded aboard a ship in a Norfolk port for 18 months.
Nikesh Rastogi, 43, has been living on the offshore supply vessel Malaviya Twenty, moored in Great Yarmouth, since February 2017.
The captain has been stuck there with three crew after the ship’s owners fell into liquidation – triggering a complex series of legal disputes regarding unpaid crew wages and port dues.
Capt Rastogi said they have received no wages since last year, and feared they would not get paid if they left the ship because it would be "considered a derelict which means anybody can take it over".
The ship has now been arrested, meaning the court can arrange its sale and use the money raised to pay those owed, after the crew’s lawyers went to the Admiralty Marshal at the High Court last month.
Capt Rastogi, from Mumbai, said he hopes to head back home – on a plane – with his crew within weeks, and eat "lots of butter chicken".
He said: "It is like a weight being lifted because there was a point of no hope.
"There was a period where things were really bad mentally."
Lawyer Paul Haworth said a surveyor instructed by the court will value the ship and it should be sold by September.
Paul Keenan, inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said the ship could sell for £700,000 to £800,000.
Mr Haworth said the money should be enough to pay everybody involved, including the Admiralty Marshal’s costs, port dues, legal fees and the crew’s unpaid wages.
Mr Rastogi says he was contracted by an agency in February 2017 to head up a 13-strong replacement crew after the ship’s owners fell into liquidation.
All of the original crew returned to India last year and three new members joined him in September 2017 on six-month contracts.
The captain said the agency withdrew in January after new contracts did not materialise – so he and his crewmates have not been paid for six months.
He said he did not leave the ship because there are certain legalities surrounding a captain abandoning his ship which means he would have to accept an unspecified amount of liability.
Capt Rastogi told Sky News: "Things could really go sideways if it’s left in the hands of anybody but the court."
He said he felt responsible for his crew, saying: "You can’t sit and mope over it, you just slide into the role."
They read books to keep busy, performed drills and did routine maintenance while keeping in touch with family via WhatsApp and looked out for "markers for depression".
Capt Rastogi added: "Your mind needs to be like a shark in that sense because if you stop then you sink and you start thinking about the situation and then there’s no hope."
And ever hopeful, he said "lightning doesn’t strike twice" so is keen to continue working at sea.
Talking about returning home, he said: "I think I’m going to have lots of Indian food.
"I’m going to start with curries from breakfast to dinner."
When asked what he was really forward to, he told Sky News: "Butter chicken."
(c) Sky News 2018: Indian sailor stranded on ship in Norfolk for 18 months to fly home