The COVID-19 outbreak and the toll it is taking on human lives and economies shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Governments and the maritime industry are scrambling to contain the contagion. Port authorities are implementing restrictions of access for vessels, and there cases of re-routing of vessels without crew change-overs and suspension of shore leave. Amid all the chaos, seafarers are increasingly calling for transparency and more information to be relayed to them. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports
According to Human Rights at Sea, there are cases of seafarers being retained on vessels after sign-off, left ashore without funds in foreign countries thus unable to return to their families, and not having sufficient information being passed to them due to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
Human Rights at Sea said the issue is being urgently addressed by International Chamber of Shipping, International Transport Workers Federation and Intermanager, with inputs from the global welfare organizations.
In just four hours, 24 cases came into the NGO from seafarers seeking to raise greater awareness of their circumstances. Reports of non-payment of wages, contract extensions without informed consent, crew being left in foreign States to pay hotel bills and to seek flights home using their own funds, appear to be increasing.
Most concerning is the apparent lack of direct engagement with seafarers to keep them informed and updated, and therefore to be able to be part of decision-making process involving their employment, personal liberty and access to their families.
Captain Pradeep Kumar contacted the charity and commented that: “We understand the COVID impact on the world community and we seafarers are suffering the most especially where the crew changes are not allowed by the port authority. It is making seafarers mentally sick and which is going to lead to accidents. At most of the ports, seafarer can disembark but need 14 days quarantine.”
He added that there is a lack of information given to the seafarers about the dangers of COVID-19 infection, especially in view of seafarers coming into contact with others during ongoing cargo operation with shore staff going onboard the vessels, and re-supply of stores and spares. He went on to highlight that it is only when the seafarer goes to sign-off that there is a discussion about the COVID infection. Lastly, he implored for the authorities to care about seafarers’ mental agony.
One case referred to Mehrzad Wadiwalla, an Indian seafarer stuck in Zarzis, Tunisia. He arrived 6 Mar via Tunis to join his ship, but by 16 Mar the port stopped crew changes. He has since stayed in a hotel while trying to book flights home. All this while, he is using his own money. Another case involved 2nd Officer Hitesh Jain, currently at Sharjah, UAE after his contract was completed on 15 Jan. As visas are now suspended, he could not go home. He was previously on board a vessel for eight and a half months.