The COVID-19 pandemic has affected transport industry across the globe. It has also brought to light the importance of maritime industry for, as the land and air travel has come to an almost standstill, the shipping industry continues its journey to serve the global populace. And all this has been made possible due to the efforts of the seafarers.
However, these selfless seafarers are facing repatriation problems over the last three months. The maritime administration, with the support of the Indian government, has come to their aid by supporting the industry in the process of crew change in Indian ports and through chartered flights as well as Vande Bharat flights.
The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) alongwith the Maritime Union of India (MUI), organised a webinar on the topic: INDIAN SEAFARERS CREW CHANGE – SUCCESS OR FAILURE ??? on July 21 ,2020. The aim of the webinar was to project a correct view of the hardships faced by the seafarers and to reiterate the good work being done by the maritime administration, Ministry of Shipping and other stakeholders.
Mr. Abdulgani Y Serang, General Secretary cum treasurer – NUSI, stated “While the lands of the world are under an eerie lockdown, the skies of the world are quiet and serene, and it is only and only the seas, which are alive and active due to committed and passionate seafarers working on all ships. We salute all our seafarers and their family members.”
The panelists of the webinar were Capt. (Dr.) Daniel J Joseph, Deputy Director General-DG Shipping, Capt. Prashant Rangnekar, COO-Elegant Marine Services, Chairman-MASSA, Capt. Rajesh Tandon, Global Director-V Group, Director-FOSMA, Mr. Prasad Hariharan, Managing Director-Carnival Support Services, Capt. B.K. Tyagi, General Manager-Shipping Corporation of India ,Mr. Stephen Cotton, General Secretary-ITF, Mr. Amar Singh Thakur, General Secretary-MUI and Mr. Abdulgani Y. Serang, General Secretary cum Treasurer-NUSI.
Dr. Malini Shankar, Director General Shipping disclosed that of 8890 requests received by stranded seafarers from across the world, around 8340 of them have been repatriated. Now only around 200 of them are left to be brought back to the country. This is amidst the estimates by The United Nations that around 1,50,000 to 2,00,000 sailors have been stranded on ships across the world due to the lockdown measures in different parts of the world.
Capt. (Dr) Daniel J Joseph, Deputy Director-General of (DG Shipping), stated that to take stock of the situation a technical module was developed by his team. He averred that multiple agencies were involved in the sign-on, sign-off process. He explained how the India tackles this process thus: “The charter of the shipping company approaches us with a list of seafarers, which is cross-verified by us. We also share the list with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The list of seafarers also needs to be shared with the local embassy, and the manifest is verified by them… Before they land, MEA confirms the location because quarantine facilities need to be developed, and local state government gets involved.”
The panelists expressed their concern about provisions and practices being followed by different States for their screening and quarantine measures of the seafarers who were being brought back. The industry experts also suggested certain provisions to ensure the safety of the seafarers and address the concerns of their family members.
Capt Prashant Rangnekar, COO of Elegant Marine Services, stated, ““We understand the pain the seafarers and their families have endured in this pandemic, as some of them cannot return home even after having completed their services. This is the reason why provisions such as commercial flights, green corridors, and arrival visas need to be made available for them.”
Capt Rajesh Tandon, Global Director, V Group, appealed to other relevant agencies that once the DG office has verified the people coming on chartered flights there should be no further clearances required.
Capt BK Tyagi, General Manager of Shipping Corporation of India, iterated “Our two objectives have been to ensure that seafarers reach home safely and simultaneously need to be picked up from home to reach the ship in non-COVID conditions. So far, we have been successful in these two parameters. No seafarer from SCI has fallen seriously sick because of COVID and the entire fleet has been maintained COVID free.”
Mr. Stephen Cotton mentioned about the support provided by the ITF and its affiliates worldwide for the seafarers. He added, “India is very important to the Maritime industry, not just at sea but on shores as well. It is pleasing to reflect that there have 64,000 movements on and off the vessel in India. Considering that India geographically is in the middle of the world, and is responding to the situation is a relief for seafarers.”
Mr. Prasad Hariharan, Managing Director of Carnival Support Services believed that there would be a new standard for cruising, especially with so many borders closed for a lot of nationals.
Mr. Amar Singh Thakur, General Secretary of MUI, appealed to the seafarers to continue sailing. He stated that companies were doing their best to get them back from foreign, as well as Indian, ports. He added, “We must understand that the seafarers from other nationalities, especially the Philippines are showing great commitment to continue sailing. We too will overcome the challenges”
In the discussion which lasted for more than two hours, the panelists also answered the questions asked by the participants in the webinar.
The webinar, which was broadcast live on NUSI Facebook page enabled delegates from the shipping fraternity, hundreds of seafarers and their family members to participate and interact live with the panelists.