The year 2020 was one that the seafarers, particularly those who experienced the signing on/signing off dilemma, would like to remember. But those who came to their rescue during these trying times could truly be called the knights in shining armour. A major hurdle for the maritime industry was crew relief. With airlines being grounded, relieving the seafarers on board the ship became an unviable task. MASSA+FOSMA together with ATPI (as travel partner) stepped up as a messiah, by arranging charter flights between India and Qatar, the latter being the only country in the vicinity which was operating a, somewhat curtailed, service to global destinations. But there were a number of entities which helped the three associations achieve this onerous task. To express the industry’s gratitude to these Samaritans the Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA), The Maritime Association of Shipowners Shipmanagers and Agents (MASSA) and ATPI held a virtual felicitation programme to publicly thank all those individuals and entities who went way beyond their call of duty to facilitate this movement of seafarers.
Mr. P.Kumaran, present High Commissioner of India to Singapore, who was part of ‘operation airlift for seafarers’ during his tenure as Ambassador of India to Qatar was the chief guest on the occasion. He recalled that a large part of the ‘operation airlift for seafarers’ was conducted during his tenure as Ambassador of India to Qatar. He narrated tales of defeat and misery brought on by collapsed businesses, job losses and other tales of despair. He lauded the Indian Maritime industry for their role during the pandemic, in looking after their seafarers and keeping the wheels of trade moving. Never before had the world understood the value of shipping and seafarers! He urged the seafarers to continue with their good work.
Mr. Fathi Atti, Sr.Vice President, Qatar Airways was also felicitated, as he was instrumental in facilitating the movement of seafarers in transit through Doha airport. This was an uphill task, as there was no protocol in place for transferring persons from and to charter flights from scheduled network! This necessitated a number of approvals locally with various Ministries!
Another person who deserves kudos was Mr. Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping and his office as they co-ordinated with various ministries finding innovative solutions to ‘once in a lifetime problems’, interpreting complex rules in favour of the seafarer, are amongst the few instances.
Other persons and entities which helped the seafarers during these dire times were:
Capt. Kapil Kaushik, Defence Attache’ at Embassy of India in Doha who was quick to grasp the nuances of crew changes and the vagaries of commercial shipping which resulted in changes of personnel by the hour. He co-ordinating with state agencies in India to get landing permissions for the flights returning with seafarers.
Mr. Manish Puri, Sr Vice President, Indigo Airlines ensured that the seafarers were ferried on chartered Indigo flights operated between Doha and India. When he was explained the need for this exercise, he placed seafarer interest above commercial interests and went out of his way to ensure availability of aircraft for the charters.
The High Commission in Singapore too needs to be praised as he expressed willingness to support Seafarers whichever way they could.
The list goes on. The co-operation between all parties ensured that hundred flights were operated, between June to October 2020 moving 20,000 seafarers. The effort was not without its humanitarian side; more than 500 financially distressed Indian citizens were also ferried back from Doha on ‘gratis’ basis.