For guest-starved hotels and airlines, seafarers are a blessing

P Manoj MUMBAI | Updated on June 11, 2020 Published on June 11, 2020

Representative Image   -  REUTERS

Seafarers are filling up hotel rooms and airline seats, giving the beleaguered travel and hospitality industry a small respite from the sudden plunge in business as the pandemic forced travel restrictions and shut airlines.

Shipowners, managers and crewing agents are chartering flights to ferry seafarers to overseas destinations such as Doha and Colombo to carry out crew change onboard ships overseas as the global shipping industry looks at ways to overcome a crisis – crew working way beyond their original contract tenures – posing a threat to global trade flows fromthe tired, overworked crew.

The logistics of bringing crew from various places across India to Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai to be put on a plane to Doha and Colombo and to bring seafarers back to India and the associated COVID-19 tests and quarantine rules are giving decent business to guest-starved hotels.

“There is a big demand for hotels in Kochi because a lot of crew changes are taking place here,” said a Kochi-based executive of India’s top ship agency. “Almost all the hotels in Kochi are getting filled up as we have to accommodate crew joining and leaving ships as per the norms to quarantine them based on state government protocol.

Cochin Port has emerged the preferred destination for conducting crew change at its outer anchorage with more than 80 ships doing crew rotation so far, facilitating more than a thousand seafarers to join and disembark from ships. This is because Cochin Port allows the crew change at anchorage without levying any charges and also due to the least deviation from the international shipping route. More such crew rotations are being lined up.

The hotels in Kochi, including five-star hotels, have taken permission from the Health Department of Kerala to use their properties as quarantine facilities.

Seafarers have to come to Kochi at least four days before they join a ship to carry out COVID-19 tests and wait for the report. Those disembarking from ships will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period in Kochi, but this period is adjusted according to the sailing time from the last port of call to Cochin. For example, if a ship takes five days to reach Cochin after leaving Dubai, the crew signing off have to undergo nine days quarantine in Kochi.

Between May 19 and July 1, 40 chartered flights have been arranged with 19 flights taking off and returning till May 10, according to Sanjay Prashar, managing director of Mumbai-based ship management company V R Maritime Services, which alone has chartered 13 such flights.

While the government has been carrying out the repatriation of Indian nationals stranded overseas using Air India planes on the Vande Bharat mission, shipping companies have chartered SpiceJet and Indigo planes to move seafarers.

Flights are being charted for as much as Rs60 lakhs per trip, a person briefed on the plan said, and the cost is being pooled by the different ship managers booking seats for their crew, including top names such as Anglo-Eastern, Wallem, Synergy, V. Group, MSC and SeaTeam.

“In this situation, any business is god send for any airline,” said an executive with the flight operations department of SpiceJet Ltd.

Shipping company executives say that room rates have dropped considerably in Mumbai and Kochi because hotel operators have no choice in an oversupplied market.

“Rates have dropped by as much as s₹2,000 per night in five-star hotels in Kochi, and that is inclusive of three standard meals in a day,” said the Kochi-based ship management executive mentioned earlier.

OYO Rooms have approached shipping companies seeking business by offering special discounted rates for the crew, across India.

“If they chose not to take seafarers, they will be losing out a lot,” he added.

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Published on June 11, 2020
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