KOCHI: Thousands of crew members of merchant ships are stuck at sea due to restrictions on accessing ports, disembarkation and international flight service.
Uncertainty over easing of restrictions and apprehensions over escalating pandemic situation has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of crew members. Seafarers who need emergency medical care also are not allowed to disembark.
As per an earlier assessment of various maritime bodies in the country, more than 40,000 Indian crew members are stuck at sea. Normally, shipping companies engage officers and crew on a six to nine months of contract. But, due to COVID-19 restrictions, crew onboard are unable to sign off even after the contract period is over and those who are onshore can’t sign in.
Various maritime bodies and families of the stranded seafarers have sought immediate measures to evacuate the stranded crew. Request has been submitted to Union shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya seeking immediate measures to bring home the more than 15,000 seafarers from Kerala. The letter has been sent by CG Rajagopal, BJP south zone secretary.
“If the shipping ministry can set up quarantine facility for Indian seafarers in various countries, through embassies, it will be helpful for the crew. They can fly back home after completing the quarantine period,” said CICC Jayachandran, whose son is working with a shipping company. He has also submitted a memorandum to MP Hibi Eden in this regard.
Change of crew is an important measure for operation of merchant ships and the seafarers will sign-on and sign-off for a particular time period as per the contract with the shipping company.
“One of our colleagues developed severe abdominal pain due to hernia when our ship was sailing from China to Australia. After stringent formalities he was allowed to consult a doctor in Australian port. Due to the pandemic crisis, his lab reports were delayed and the results were received after the ship resumed sailing to China. Though immediate consultation with a surgeon and surgery was prescribed, he was not given permission for disembarkation in Chinese port. The Chinese authorities made it clear that at any circumstance the crew will not be allowed to disembark,” said Anand Kottol, working in Hong Kong Shipping Company, Singapore, a native of Kochi.
Similar instances are being reported from many vessels.
“Seafarers are being looked upon as COVID-19 carriers by many countries. But, in fact ship crew members follow strict social distancing and safety norms as they have no outside contact and the number of persons in a vessel is the minimum. The crew don’t need to stay in any foreign country for long. If flights are arranged, the crew can get off in any port of call and can fly back home,” added Anand.
“In countries like Singapore, crew members have to go under 14-day quarantine before signing off. Until the crew are signed off and fly back home, the vessel has to remain in the port. Such restrictions are not feasible as shipping companies won’t pay for quarantine facilities which are usually very expensive,” he said.
Seafarers are allowed to sign off at the ports in their own country, but not other nationals. Indian government has also permitted crew change of Indian national seafarers for ships anchored at its ports. But most of the international liners will not call at Indian ports for crew change....