Lack of permission to operate special chartered flights hurts seafarers’ job prospects

P Manoj MUMBAI/MAY 25 | Updated on May 25, 2020

An estimated 6,000 Indian seafarers have already lost employment opportunities to Filipinos, Ukrainians and Chinese due to lack of permission for chartered flights

Lack of government permission by Monday to a ship management company to run a chartered flight on May 28 to Colombo, will kill the employment chances of some 150 Indian seafarers on board five ships.

The issue highlights the ‘soft handling’ of the crew change crisis by the Indian government.

About 150 Indian seafarers have been lined up by V R Maritime for the Mumbai to Colombo flight via Chennai. Each such chartered flight including the return flight costs some Rs 50 lakhs which is borne by the ship management company.

“If we don’t get confirmation for the chartered flight by today, we will have to hand over these 150 jobs to Russians, Chinese and Filipinos,” said Captain Sanjay Prashar, Managing director, V R Maritime and a member on India’s National Shipping Board.

An estimated 6,000 Indian seafarers have already lost employment opportunities to Filipinos, Ukrainians and Chinese due to lack of permission for chartered flights, he said.

Another ten-yard delivery of crew are lined up in the next couple of months.

Issues regarding crew change in other Countries

Countries such as Russia and Dubai do not allow crew change at their ports. The crew change procedures unveiled by Singapore recently are too rigid besides VISA’s are not available for many countries due to shut down of embassies.

Indian seafarers are hence at the mercy of a few locations such as Japan, South Korea and Colombo for crew change.

Seafarers arriving at Colombo airport will have to take a connecting flight within six hours, else they have to stay in quarantine facilities provided by the Sri Lankan government till they take the next flight. Indian seafarers can take COVID tests in Sri Lanka.

Measures taken by the Government

With a view to facilitate sign-on of Indian seafarers at foreign ports, the Ministry of Home Affairs has allowed Indian seafarers to travel by chartered flights arranged by employers in addition to the Vande Bharat flights run by Air India.

“With this, the Indian seafarers are allowed to sign-on and sign-off at all Indian ports, anchorages of Indian ports and also at any foreign port, provided the other country allows them to join from their ports. Once again, India has taken the lead in crew change while ensuring protection of its seafarers,” said Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping.

Further, giving a huge relief to the seafarers waiting to come back home, the employers have also been allowed to charter flights to repatriate Indian seafarers back home. This is in addition to their repatriation through Vande Bharat flights, Kumar said.

The government has so far granted permission to one chartered flight.

MMS Maritime (India) Pvt Ltd ran a chartered flight from Bangalore to Colombo to facilitate the movement of 50 Indian seafarers to get employment opportunity in South Korea. It flew empty on the return leg, though there are some 100 Indian seafarers stranded in Colombo.

What seafarers have to say

“With each state adopting its own rules on the mandatory 14 days quarantine at destination airports after domestic flights, the government plan is not helping seafarers,” said a seafarer, calling for uniformity among states in this regard.

V R Maritime’s Prashar said that the chartered flight operations is also hit by a government rule that the return leg should get permission from the ministries of Home Affairs, External Affairs, Civil Aviation, Shipping and the respective state governments, an exercise that entails a time lag of as much as 15 days.

“Instead of allowing full capacity utilisation, bureaucracy is thrown in the face of companies. Is the government implicitly trying to disallow crew change,” asks another seafarer.

Published on May 25, 2020

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