Maritime organizations and seafarer associations in India are urging the government to bring seafarers under the ambit of priority workers for vaccinations. Seafarers are crucial to maintaining the transport and trade in the country. Hence they should be vaccinated on priority.
Indian Seafarers Employability Hampered
“The current population of Indian seafarers is pegged at 2.5 lakh and this maritime workforce is working aboard thousands of ships worldwide”, said Mahendra Bhasin, the Chairman of the Maritime Association of Shipowners Shipmanagers and Agents, MASSA.
“Not bringing about two lakh Indian seafarers under the ambit of ‘priority workers’ for vaccination may mar their employability perspective”, cautioned maritime bodies.
“There are about two lakh Indian seafarers below the age of 45 years who are facing an unprecedented crisis”, said maritime bodies MASSA and MUI. They urged the government to act immediately and include seafarers in the “priority workers”.
This is in line with the World Health Organization’s recent directive urging governments to vaccinate ship and airline crew on priority.
The prospect of Indian seafarers in the global market is getting hampered due to this. Other maritime countries like the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Romania, Croatia, Singapore, etc have already made the move and designated seafarers as ‘priority workers’. Many have already started vaccinating seafarers
Risky Situation for Indian Shipping
“The government has not yet included them in the category of ‘priority workers’ in the ongoing COVID vaccination drive. This is hampering the prospect of young seafarers”, said Mahendra Bhasin.
Many of these young seafarers are working as merchant navy officers, ratings, cruise staffers, etc in cargo and cruise ships sailing outside India for months due to the pandemic.
“It is estimated that not over 50,000 Indian seafarers are of the age 45 and above. Since young Indian seafarers have not been included under ‘priority list’ in the ongoing inoculation process by the Indian government and hence remain unvaccinated, shipowners worldwide fear they might spread COVID infections on board the vessels and thus disrupt the global supply chain”, said Bhasin.
He further added that the situation is turning risky for the shipping and Manning industry of the country as this will affect crew changes
“Not bringing seafarers under the ambit of ‘priority workers’ for inosculation places Indian seafarers at a distinct disadvantage from an employability perspective, unfortunately”, he said.
“With the availability of foreign seafarers having an ‘immunity passport’ globally, there exists a grave fear amongst young Indian seafarers that shipowners worldwide might eventually start employing inoculated foreign seafarers over Indian seafarers aboard the cargo vessels”, Bhasin added.
Delegation Meeting With the Pharma Minister
Meanwhile, Amar Singh Thakur, the General Secretary of the Maritime Union of India (MUI), has revealed that they are sending a delegation to the shipping ministry to discuss the matter.
“A delegation of our senior office bearers will meet Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways of India Mansukh Mandaviya next week in New Delhi in this regard”, Thakur said.
The industry is hopeful of a positive outcome as Mandaviya also heads the Pharmaceuticals department. So, getting the vaccine supplies for seafarers will be easier.
“Shipping bodies are extremely hopeful of getting a speedy and positive response for the interest of Indian seafaring population”, he added.