India’s maritime administration has announced a one-time amnesty scheme for seafarers who had secured qualification certificates without attending classes in the biggest fake certificate scam yet in the country’s maritime training sector.

The Directorate-General of Shipping had issued show-cause notices to 3,762 candidates who, it found, had obtained fake certificates from some five training institutes without proper training. These candidates were also debarred from taking up jobs from July 2019.

DG Shipping Amitabh Kumar said that the certificates indicated in the show-cause notices issued to all the 3,762 candidates have been cancelled and the candidates will have to repeat these courses again from approved maritime training institutes.

The period of debarment announced earlier for these fake certificate-holders will end on January 31.

Fresh certificates

Candidates who have repeated the training and have been issued fresh certificates from approved training institutes will apply for restoration of their e-migrate facility and the same shall be restored within 10 working days. Those who have not repeated the training courses can do so within six months from February 1 and apply for restoration of their e-migrate facility, and the same shall be restored within 10 days after receipt of their applications.

E-migrate is a software system that allows only seafarers recruited by Indian ship owners, authorised recruitment and placement agencies and senior officers (master or chief engineer) hired directly by foreign shipowners to pass through the immigration checkpoints, to check unlawful hiring of crew.

Any other seafarer (outside the 3,762) who suo moto wishes to surrender his certificate obtained wrongly to the DG Shipping, can do so and repeat the course(s) till July 31, 2020, without facing any debarment. This facility will not be available after July 31 and surrender after this date will attract debarment in accordance with Merchant Shipping Rules.

One-time measure

“The amnesty has been granted on humanitarian considerations and is strictly a one-time measure. The detection of similar transgressions in future will attract penalty of cancellation of Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC) and debarment of up to 5 years,” Kumar stated.

If any candidate, who has been granted amnesty under this scheme, is found involved in another misconduct or obtaining of false documents/certificates under the Merchant Shipping Act, then he will be banned for life, Kumar added.

“We are very conscious that as a maritime nation we cannot reduce the quality of the training certificates that we issue. We don’t intend to give any reprieve to the training institutes or to the administrators who were involved in this racket and we will go out of the way to make sure that such institutes are removed from the Indian maritime ecosystem,” Kumar said.

There will be no amnesty for the training institutes, the promoters, the principals and the course in-charge who were found involved or who will be found involved in future.

The process of withdrawal of approvals in respect of these institutes, blacklisting of their promoters, withdrawal of continuous discharge certificates and certificate of competency of the principals and course in-charge are under progress.

The promoters of these institutes have been/will be blacklisted for life not only from maritime training but from any activities relating to DG Shipping.

The penal action taken by the administration had the full backing of the unions, Kumar said.

Quality of training

“This is because the certificates issued by India have great value globally because of the quality of training. The fake certificate racket was a big setback for us, that the certificate issued by the Indian system was below the quality and standard for which the country was renowned. So, it was critical for us to clamp down on this at an early stage itself and it was in the interest of the seafarers,” Kumar said.

Yet, to take very strong action against candidates would have meant the end of a budding career, he added.

“The steps taken by DG Shipping were very essential to maintain the credibility of the Indian training system and to plug the loopholes. It was a clear case of unemployment of Indian seafarers in the long run, if it had continued, said Abdulgani Serang, general secretary-cum-treasurer of the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), adding that the “leniency” shown by the DG Shipping was laudable.