Tough keeping morale of sailors during a pandemic, says Captain Shikher Kohli

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on July 25, 2020

File photo

The management of Singapore-flagged merchant vessel Ever Gifted had tried to get off-signers to disembark at many ports but to no avail

As a Master of big merchant vessel Ever Gifted, Captain Shikher Kohli is a high-grade licensed mariner who holds ultimate command and responsibility over it. He considers himself singularly lucky to sign-off from duty and enter the shore at the Vizhinjam here on Wednesday after being on board for only six months.

The Captain has flown back home to New Delhi after testing negative for Covid-19 during his stay here. Before leaving here, he told BusinessLine here that he is among the 12 off-signers who disembarked at Vizhinjam and saw as many get on board (on-signers) to replace them.

Agonising over fate

“There are others who have completed almost a year over the waters and not touched the shoreline since most ports do not receive them due to Covid-19 restrictions. This has created unrest on board, very rare in maritime history. As for me, I’ve had a tough time keeping things on an even keel amidst frustrated seafarers agonising over their uncertain fate,” Captain Kohli said.

As Master of the Singapore-flagged Ever Gifted, he had tried many hacks to maintain he morale of the crew. “I would organise frequent get-togethers on board, hang out with them and play games to relieve them of stress and anxiety rather than put pressure on them to work. This is what we could hope to do at best within the confines of the vessel.”

Ever Gifted is owned by the Synergy Marine Group, with an Indian Founder and CEO Captain Rajesh Unni at the helm. The management had tried to get off-signers to disembark at many ports but to no avail. “This was building up pressure and we wanted to ensure that fatigue did not set in among our people," Captain Kohli said.

Safety, most important

After all, safety is very important and cannot be compromised. “It was important that fatigue did not affect crucial aspects such as navigation in congested waters, which calls for difficult manoeuvring. I told them to take it easy and keep their calm, and not rush into decisions. The point here is that you worry not just about yourself but also about those on distant shores who keep worrying about you.”

Captain Kohli would keep telling his crew that so long as they are on board, they are in one of the safest places anywhere in the world – land or water. “We are 24 persons on board, and none has been affected by Covid-19. And this is a big blessing. We will not get the virus unless and until somebody carries it from the shore."

As easy as breeze at Vizhinjam

As for the crew change at Vizhinjam, it was as easy as a breeze, the Captain said. “It was a real good experience considering the next option was Kochi, which is further North and warrants a much longer deviation (from the trunk route). So location wise, Vizhinjam is much better.

“For a container vessel, time is of the essence and keeping to the schedule is very important to ensure that interests of all stakeholders are taken care of. Crew change is also very important for us. Given this context, Vizhinjam, which lies only 15 nautical miles (27 km) off the trunk route, was the best thing to happen for us."

It took less than six hours to complete the crew change at Vizhinjam. From there, the vessel had set sail next for the Colombo Anchorage, and reached there on Thursday. It is currently sailing to Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia at a speed of 20.6 knots (38 km/hr) and is expected to call in there at 1 am local time on July 28.

Published on July 25, 2020

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