Indian seafarers employed on coastal ships, including foreign-flagged vessels, are denied shore leaves as port health authorities based in Chennai are not sure if they can allow relatives to visit them or vice versa, due to the stringent Covid-19 protocols in place.
Shore leaves are when sailors are permitted to leave a docked vessel. It can either be for a couple of hours or even a few days.
A sailor working on Bulk Carrier MV Maithili mentioned that the ship made it to the Chennai Port recently, but the crew members were not permitted to leave and were told that the Port Health Authority had not allowed them shore leave.
One other sailor associated with MV CS Satira has reported that his family wanted to pay him a visit and stay with him on board for two days. While the ship owners had made the arrangements, the port health officer refused to give permission.
K Sreekumar, an inspector associated with the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), mentioned that although Covid restrictions have been relaxed across India, the Ministry of Health has directed port health officers not to let crew leave vessels owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
He added that India’s director-general of shipping must prioritize the issue and take it up with the relevant Ministry to see that these norms are relaxed. This is a sheer violation of the seafarers’ rights. When foreign tourists are permitted to move across India freely, seafarers are unwelcome.
Manoj Joy, the Sailors Helpline coordinator, mentioned that the Cruise ship Empress is operating between Visakhapatnam and Chennai with thousands of passengers. They are not following Covid-19 restrictions. They are free to enter and leave the port. Similarly, cabin crew and airline pilots are permitted to leave and enter the airport freely. But seafarers are only being targeted.
Blaming Covid-19, seafarers are compelled to stay on board just like prisoners. Indian seafarers are not allowed to meet their families.
Recently, three seafarers who reached Chennai after coming back from abroad were not allowed to meet their families in the city even when there were multiple requests. The families were not permitted on board. Such unreasonable restrictions are harming the mental as well as the physical well-being of seafarers. Such scenarios are resulting in a rise in suicide cases at sea. Cruise passengers as well as airline crew members get preferential treatment.
A port health officer said that the Chennai Port wants to allow sailors to avail of their shore leave. The authorities have appealed to the Health Ministry and Union Home Ministry. He added that the authorities were eager to help but they were instructed to follow Covid-19 guidelines set by the Ministry of Health on 10 February.
Reference: The New Indian Express
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