If you are a maritime professional or planning to become one, then sooner or later you will have to get used to traveling – an integral part of the shipping profession. Frequent traveling from one country to another to reach destination ports and ships makes lives of maritime professionals physically and mentally stressing. Moreover visiting new countries having different rules, customs, and traditions means dealing with a new set of laws every time.
We all have heard about horrifying stories of seafarers while they were traveling to new countries to join ships. One of the main reasons for such accidents is lack of common sense and inability to take some basic precautions.
The fact is most of these problems can be solved by being a bit aware of the situation you can get into while traveling in foreign lands. Learn about seven common problems seafarers can face while traveling to foreign lands.
Note: Before commencing your journey, ensure that you have checked your shipping contract , appointment letter and ” OK to Board” letter properly. The contact number of local officer personnel, foreign agents, and other important people will be issued by the company few days before joining the ship. Make sure that you note them down properly and keep them with you all the time.
1. Loss of important documents
Losing important documents in a foreign land can be extremely scary. When you are moving outside your native country, official documents are your only identity. It is therefore important to take all necessary precautions to not only avoid loosing them but also to act without panic by keeping a backup with a set of photocopies in case you do lose them. While making sets of photocopies of documents, always keep one pair with your luggage bag and another back at your home. If you are a tech-savvy person (and we wish you are) then you can also scan the documents and put them in your smartphones, tablets, laptops and other electronic gadgets. You can also keep them in a “cloud system” or “google drive” so that they are available from anywhere. There are several apps (both android and iphone) available, which you can take help of, to manage and save your important documents.
In case you lose your documents in foreign land, inform your agent immediately and also file a complain with the local police department. You might also be required to contact your country’s embassy in certain situations.
2. Missing of flights
In order to reach their respective ships or while returning to their home land, seafarers are required to take several connecting flights. Though a good transit time is always provided between the two flights, there have been several cases wherein seafarers have missed their flights because of certain reasons.
In case you miss your flight, immediately approach the airport administration and ask until what time you can stay at the airport. This is because some airports require transit visas after staying for a certain period of time at the airport. Contact your local office personnel of your country to explain them the situation and informing about the transit visas, if required. Most of the time, the officer personnel will be able to arrange an alternative flight or a return flight in case ongoing flights are not available.
3. Luggage stolen or lost
Cases of luggage getting stolen or lost is a common occurrence that can happen with anyone. In case your luggage is stolen/lost, file a complain with the airline and provide details of your foreign agent and shipping office. In case your luggage is found it will be delivered to the agent, who will then hand it over to you. Also, don’t forget to claim “stolen luggage” allowance once you are back on ship. For such unforeseen incidents, always keep a set of clothes in your handbag. You will be needing a fresh pair them until your luggage arrives.
4. Security check problem
Problems during security check at airports are increasing every year. There have been cases registered wherein seafarers were detained and and even jailed for not following the local laws. Visiting new countries means dealing with new laws and cultures. If is very common for seafarer to be not aware of the local laws while visiting or transiting new countries. This often land them in trouble.
As a matter of precaution, ensure that you check the laws of the country you are visiting in order to avoid any kind of trouble (Ask your company/agent). For e.g. Hong Kong does not allow to carry taser or stun guns, even in check-in luggage. Similarly, dubai does not allow carriage of poppy seeds. There have been cases when people have been jailed for long term when found with its possession.
Note: If your transit time is less and the security check is crowded, request the security personnel for a quicker access as you may miss to join your ship. However, never show aggression or anger and always cooperate with the security officers even when you are in hurry. (As being restless and aggressive can lead to further delay because of interrogation, thorough checking etc.
5. No agent to pick you up at airport
There will be times when you reach your destination on time but there is no agent to pick you up or are required to wait for him. In such cases, just wait for the agent before taking any steps. Don’t panic and take a taxi for your destination. 99% of the time the agent will come to pick you up. However, if no one comes to pick you up, call the agent using the contacts you have been provided by the company. Still if you don’t receive no response, call your local office personnel and explain them about the situation. They will arrange a replacement for your agent to pick you up.
Note: Don’t leave the airport premises at any cost. It is always the most secured place in a new country.
6. Immigration problem
The most common problems that are faced during immigration checks are errors in joining, appointment, and “ok to board” letters. Don’t forget to check these documents thoroughly once you are assigned with them. Always keep your seafarer’s documents and passport in good condition as some immigration authorities can create problem if the passport is torn or is stapled or pasted with company sticker.
Note: Always ask you company not to staple or paste any kind of document with your passport.
7. Accidents or injury
These are rare cases but they do occur. Injury or accidents in foreign land can lead to unfortunate situations wherein the authority is not able to identify the victim. Always keep an identity card or a photocopy of the same in your pocket while traveling. Also, note down all the important contact numbers on a piece of paper or diary, along with your name and company details so that the country’s authorities are able to identify you and your purpose of visiting the country in case you are unconscious and not in a condition to talk.
Raunek Kantharia is a marine engineer turned maritime writer and entrepreneur. After a brief stint at the sea, he founded Marine Insight in 2010. Apart from managing Marine Insight, he also writes for a number of maritime magazines and websites.