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Remembering SS Dwarka, the ship that carried Indian migrant workers to the Gulf for decades, India, 25 September 2021 - n the morning of June 13, 1982, workers at the Gadani Beach shipbreaking yard near Karachi, Pakistan, were told to begin tearing down a ship weighing 4,851 gross tons with a length of 399 feet and a width of 55 feet. As the metal was rent apart, the workers probably had little idea about the historic significance of the white passenger and cargo ship, which had the words Dwarka and London painted on it. The SS Dwarka, which connected Bombay and Karachi to the countries of the Persian Gulf, had ferried hundreds of thousands of working-class passengers from the Indian subcontinent to the sparsely populated and oil-rich countries of the Gulf and back for three and a half decades.

The Dwarka’s journey began just before India attained independence. The British India Steam Navigation Company, which had been operating ship services between Bombay and Gulf ports since 1862, received the Dwarka in June 1947. The ship, which belonged to BI’s D-Class series comprising of the Dara, Daressa and Dumra apart from Dwarka, was deployed on the Bombay-Basra route. The D-class quartet was designed to carry up to 6,000 cubic metres of cargo, with the ships’ holds being partly insulated and air-cooled to allow fresh fruit to be delivered from the Indian subcontinent to the Gulf, Michael Quentin Morton wrote in a 2013 paper for the Liwa Journal.

The Dwarka, manned by a crew of 122, had a capacity of 1,104 passengers, of which 1,050 places were in the deck class. The captain and officers were mostly British and would be dressed in the warmer months in their trademark white shorts and shirts.

The ship set sail from Bombay and headed to Karachi and from there to Gwadar and Muscat, Bandar Abbas, Dubai, the Qatari port of Umm Said, Bahrain, Kuwait, Khorramshahr and Basra. The total journey took 14 days, but few passengers from the subcontinent travelled all the way to the final destination. Most would disembark at one of the Gulf ports to work in the oil, gas and construction industries.



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