Running chartered flights to bring back seafarers gather pace

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on May 18, 2020

The government has given permission to ship management companies for operating chartered flights to bring back and also ferry seafarers to join ships overseas as the shipping industry looks at ways to resolve the crew change crisis never seen before.

On May 16, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave permission to MMS Maritime (India) Pvt Ltd for a chartered flight from Bangalore to Colombo to facilitate the movement of Indian seafarers to get employment opportunities in South Korea.

On the same day, the Home Ministry gave approval to Costa Cruise Company to repatriate 414 Indian seafarers stuck on cruise ships in Italy on three chartered flights to Goa, where these crew reside.

Synergy Marine Group is awaiting permission from the Ministry of External Affairs to bring a chartered flight to Mumbai, carrying 22 Indian seafarers who have signed off from a ship at Gulfhavn port in Denmark.

More shipping companies have applied for permission to operate charter flights with aircraft having capacity of 22-60 passengers much sought after.

Ship managers and crew say that a functional and well-structured solution was needed to overcome the crisis beyond the piecemeal approach for the distressed seafarers who are stuck on-board ships even after completing their normal tenures and desperate to get back home.

“We need two-way flights to facilitate crew change at foreign ports,” said Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO, Synergy Marine Group.

Thee aircraft should be allowed to carry a team of relieving Indian seafarers to the ship, which will then bring back those crew who have signed off from the ship. This will ensure that the aircraft will not be flying empty.

To put this in perspective, some 64 seafarers are stranded in South Korea after signing off from different ships in March.

“Our companies are taking good care of us. We are staying in hotels at companies expense. The companies are ready to arrange chartered flights to India. But, due to some issues with the Indian government, they are not able to arrange the flight. We are eagerly waiting to return to our families,” said one of the 64 crew stuck in South Korea.

In the second and third phase of the Vande Bharat Mission, Air India would bring back stranded Indian nationals from abroad, excepting those in South Korea.

“My husband was due for sign off in March and is stuck on-board a ship in South Korea. The relieving Captain is already on board but there are no flights for him to return,” said the wife of a Captain based in Bangalore.

Repatriating stranded seafarers is one thing. “You have to look into relieving Indian seafarers’ onboard ships calling foreign ports. Their reliever has to be arranged to join so that the trade can continue,” said a seafarer awaiting return home a few months after his contract ended.

“It’s important to understand that seafarers who are stranded will require to be replaced by similar ranking seamen from India, else all their jobs will be lost to Chinese and other nationalities. Seafarers ashore are jobless. Hope seafarers get the due respect as other essential workers as they have toiled tirelessly,” he added.

Published on May 18, 2020

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