In a major breakthrough, the government has allowed ship and crew managers to send and bring back Indian seafarers on chartered flights to facilitate staff swap on board ships at foreign ports.
The approval, which came late in the evening on Saturday, will help thousands of Indian seafarers sign off or join ships at overseas ports, an exercise that was halted in February in the wake of the pandemic. Thus, crew have been working beyond their contract tenures.
A 189-seater SpiceJet plane will take off from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai this evening for Doha, carrying 66 seafarers of six companies, including Maersk Tankers, Mediterranean Shipping Company, BW Group, Synergy Marine, Nautilus Shipping and MMSI. From Doha, they will fly out to different destinations to join ships.
Doha and Colombo will be the hub airports through which Indian seafarers will be sent to join ships or repatriated after signing off from ships.
Colombo has agreed to allow Indian seafarers to stay for five days if they are travelling to Colombo to join a ship, and seven days if they are travelling out of Colombo on a chartered flight, provided flights are confirmed.
Qatar has permitted seafarers a 22-hour stay at the airport, but the short stay time is insignificant as Qatar is connected to 39 countries, which are in turn connected to several other places.
Captain Sanjay Prashar, Managing Director, V R Maritime Services, who pushed the government for permission to run chartered flights for the shipping companies, said: “The government has streamlined the procedures for chartered flights; now, this will be the norm”.
“It is up to the shipping companies and their associations to come together and ensure that resources are fully utilised so that the per ticket cost for travellers is reasonable,” he said.
This is critical given the fact that two of the world’s top ship management firms cancelled their bookings on the Mumbai-Doha-Mumbai flight at the last minute.
Some 50,000 Indian seafarers are expected to join ships in foreign ports over the next two months, presenting India an opportunity to make one of its airports a hub for sending and bringing back crew.
“Unfortunately, none of the Indian airports will become a hub. These 50,000 seafarers will be moved through Doha and Colombo. Imagine, if that business was handled in India. It would have enabled international flights to operate from India for carrying only seafarers,” Prashar said.
Due to the delay in getting approvals, the Mumbai-Doha-Mumbai flight on Sunday will return empty. The chartered flight operators have offered to carry 180 Indian nationals from Doha free of cost in order to utilise capacity and resources.
V R Maritime has planned a Chennai-Colombo-Chennai flight on June 3, while Synergy Marine has booked a Kochi-Colombo-Kochi flight to undertake crew change at foreign ports.
The Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA) and the Maritime Association of Shipowners, Ship managers and Agents (MASSA) have jointly planned Delhi-Doha-Delhi flights on June 3,7 and 11.
Source: The Hindu Business Line