In an interview by the Indian Express, Amitabh Kumar, Director-general of Shipping spoke about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the shipping industry, and the efforts taken by the government for the welfare of the mariners and their jobs.
On being asked how the onset of the coronavirus pandemic impacted the industry, Amitabh replied that consumption and production areas have been hugely affected. In terms of Merchant shipping, which included container ships, tankers and bulk carriers, the steel export and oil tankers have had a consistent performance going.
On the contrary, the container vessels seem to have undergone severe impact due to blocked halting or berthing caused by lockdown restrictions on ports. Container segments currently function at 80% of their strength. The closing of factories too led to problems in ground transport that is now being replaced by railways to as much extent as possible.
Speaking on the topic of seafarers’, Kumar was heard commenting that “crew change is a prime concern”. It is important to the lives of the seafarers and the vessels to have them at the top of health, both physically and mentally. The shutting down of ports and airports has locked up routes to allow for repatriation and crew change.
However, the concern, co-operation, and empathy of international communities has resulted in the search for out-of-box solutions to work around the constraint. The main concern of crew changes and the cost-regulation of the process still remains to be solved.
In India, about 80% of the crew work on foreign ships while 20% operate on Indian-flag ships. India had reportedly started crew change in the 1st week of April.
Having been the first to get an exemption from the Home Ministry, the shipping industry has executed changes and protocols to abide by the current requirements of health and safety for the well-being of the ship and its workers. This is to be continued even after lockdown is lifted to make sure no infection occurs, stating that “the cost of coronavirus onboard a ship is huge”.
The Standard Operating procedure (SOP) comprises routine COVID-19 tests, quarantining facilities at the port for seafarers, traveling in sanitized environments, utilities to issue e-passes for Intra/inter-state travel. This is done by using the 4 main modes of transport for repatriation: ports, anchorages, Vande Bharat flights, and Chartered flights. 20,000 seafarers have since been returned home while 9000 have been sent for new jobs on foreign-flag vessels.
The Director-General also spoke about the adoption of new changes and possibly permanent changes to seafarers training institutions as MHA guidelines suggest that they won’t be opening soon. Classes have now been converted to online theory classes, and training activities through virtual learning. With over 20,000 students spanning across 160 city institutions around the country, almost 90% have been taking classes online.
Other changes include the exemption of student training certificates due to a lack of delivery facilities, like speed post. The validity of safety certification for ships has also been extended based on those provided by the masters.
Finally, when requested for a comment on the impact of ongoing Indo-China tensions with anti-piracy vigil, Amitabh Kumar said that they are unfazed. The deployment of Indian vessels as observers and escorts continues, irrespective of the presence or the absence of China. Ships from the EU are also deployed for monitoring.
Reference : Indian Express