Indian seafarers on cargo ships starts returning on chartered flights after extended time at sea
In a first since the pandemic halted crew change on ships globally, 21 Indian seafarers of Synergy Marine Group returned to India on a chartered flight arranged by the Singapore-based ship management company.
This is the first chartered flight that was arranged to carry seafarers working on cargo ships back to India. The seven chartered flights that took off from India since the crew change crisis began carried seafarers going to join ships in overseas ports, while mostly returning empty.
The plane landed in Kochi in the wee hours of Saturday after a 11-hour long flight from Copenhagen with a stop-over in Doha for re-fuelling.
The 21 crew members had signed off from the oil product tanker ‘Jal Anant’ on May 12 at Gulfhavn port in Denmark after its owner sold the ship. Since then, the crew were staying in a hostel in Korsor near Gulfhavn, waiting for permission from the Indian government to land the chartered flight.
What the seafarers have to say
The crew who had spent 8-9 months at sea, comprise seven each from Kerala and TamilNadu, two each from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and one each from Telengana, Bihar and Daman.
For the crew hailing from the North, home is still far away.
“Now, the next struggle begins- how to reach Lucknow, about 2,500 kms from here,” says Captain Manu Tripathi. “Its literally the length of whole of Europe,” he told BusinessLine.
Tripathi will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine in Kerala before taking a flight to Lucknow, his home-town. Or, a seven-day isolation before proceeding to Lucknow in a taxi.
Yet, Tripathi said he and his mates were “happy” to be back in India and credits his employer Synergy Marine and its chief executive officer Captain Rajesh Unni for working as a team to bring them back. “That’s why I have stuck with them for nine years,” he said.
Approval for another chartered flight recived
The Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA) and the Maritime Association of Shipowners, Ship Managers and Agents (MASSA) received approval from the government on Saturday to run an Indigo chartered flight on Sunday from Delhi carrying 170 seafarers to Doha and return with 164 crew who had signed off from ships at various overseas ports and have transited to the capital of Qatar.
“The mission – relief of seafarers – begins,” said Captain Shiv Halbe, Chief Executive Officer, MASSA.
The MASSA-FOSMA combine had run an Indigo chartered flight on June 3 from Delhi to Doha which carried 121 seafarers, from where they proceeded to US, UK, Europe, Brazil, South Korea and Japan to relieve crew who were working beyond their original contract tenures.
The crew who were replaced have since travelled to Doha and will take the return flight to Delhi on Sunday. Captain Halbe said that separate permissions would be required to bring back seafarers on the return leg of chartered flights.
The Shipping Ministry said that there was no problem in sending seafarers out on chartered flights. “Return is the only problem because these people need to be verified whether they are Indians or not and whether they need to be brought back or not. The government has its priority. Vande Bharat mission flights are operating, the mission will verify them. That’s why it is taking time. We are coordinating with the ministry of external affairs, the embassy and the local governments because they have to agree to land these people. Imagine 200 people coming and Vande Bharat flights also coming, where is the location/facilities to quarantine them,” an official said.
Qatar has allowed travellers to transit Doha provided they took a flight within 22 hours of arrival.
“Hope, next we will get permission for the 11 June flight from Delhi to Doha and back to bring back seafarers and then everything will be smooth,” the Ministry official said.
More chartered flights from Mumbai/Delhi to Colombo and Doha have been planned by ship and crew managers to facilitate crew change at foreign ports.
“We need a safety corridor for Indian Seafarers,” said Salvatore d’Amico, who looks after the fleet management department at Italian shipping company d’Amico Group.