Indian Seafarers still at sea

The Indian government has delayed plans on crew changeovers and repatriation from overseas

Many thousands of seafarers were reported to have passed the date of contract expiry while remaining stuck on their ships, waiting at the outer anchorage of Indian ports, ready to disembark.

Revised guidelines issued earlier this month by the Indian ministry of home affairs on the rules applying to the extended lockdown period till May 3rd appeared to offer some hope. “Movement of staff and contractual labour for operations of railways, airports/ air carriers, seaports/ ships/ vessels, land ports and inland container depots (ICDs) is allowed on passes being issued by the local authority on the basis of authorizations issued by the respective designated authority of the railways, airports, seaports, land ports and ICDs,” the guidelines said.

The industry and the stranded seafarers applauded the decision, saying that it “recognized the critical role of seafarers and make them eligible for passes so they can sign on/off from ships”.

However, it was quickly noted that ‘seafarers’ had not been mentioned specifically in the guidelines.

An alliance of leading ship owners and managers, concerned about seafarer welfare and the viability of ocean supply chains in the midst of coronavirus restrictions has developed detailed crew changeover risk assessment plans. However, they said that the plan needs urgent political and regulatory support to enact them.

The alliance, representing more than 1,500 vessels and over 70,000 seafarers, includes D/S Norden, Grieg Star, Reederei Nord, Dynacom, V.Group, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), Magsaysay, Augustea, Columbia Ship Management, Inchcape Shipping Services and Synergy Group.

More than 100,000 seafarers were claimed to be marooned at sea because of Covid-19-related shutdowns worldwide.

The alliance has developed port viability and detailed seafarer risk-assessment plans which it has said would mitigate the risk of coronavirus infections during essential crew changeovers. It has urged immediate governmental and intergovernmental action to enable the resumption of crew changes.

Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO and Founder of Singapore-based ship manager Synergy Group, said that “our collective aim as responsible owners and managers employing tens of thousands of seafarers is to pursue every means possible to get crew back to their families”.

One proposed solution has been the introduction of collective crew changes at designated ports.

The ports include Singapore, Houston, Rotterdam, Gibraltar, Jebel Ali, Fujairah, Hong Kong and Shanghai. “As well as identifying ports we have also developed a rigorous risk assessment methodology and drawn up action plans that we, as employers of seafarers and organisers of crew logistics, can implement to mitigate the risks of infection,” said Captain Unni.

He said that “governments must act and assign ports in proximity to suitable airports so that crew changes can be resumed. This really is a time bomb. It is imperative for governments to recognize this and take action”.