Indian seafarers lost some 2,520 jobs on board ships between March 23 and May 30 as the lockdown restrictions imposed by the government to slow the spread of coronavirus derailed crew change plans both in India and overseas.
Between March 23 and May 30, 8,732 Indian seafarers signed off from ships both in India and abroad, while only 6,212 seafarers signed-on, according to the Directorate General of Shipping (DG Shipping), India’s maritime administration.
This implies that 2,520 Indian seafarers lost jobs to other nationalities. Ship management and crewing companies operating out of India make sure that Indian seafarers signing off from ships under their management are replaced by Indian crew during the process of crew change.
But, the stoppage of international flights, a key link in the logistics of crew change, put paid to those plans.
The government framed standard operating procedures (SOP) for crew change involving Indian seafarers at Indian ports on April 22, while permission to use chartered flights to carry out crew change at foreign ports was granted on May 30.
Indian seafarers looking to join ships on their next assignment have been urging the government to allow crew change at foreign ports by re-starting international flights.
Close to 1,90,000 Indian nationals are employed on foreign flagged ships, both as officers and general-purpose ratings/staff. Besides, there are thousands of Indians working on cruise ships.
Indian-flagged or Indian registered ships are by law allowed to employ only Indian nationals on board.
The global restrictions on crew change have forced ship owners and managers to extend the contract period of crew or offer fresh contracts, triggering a backlash from the overworked crew.
Ship managers have effected limited crew changes in some European ports, in China, Hong Kong, Australia, Mexico, the UAE and Iceland, but in most cases, the crew changes have been restricted to the nationals of these countries, which partly explains why Indians lost jobs.
The 6,212 Indian seafarers who joined ships, included those who joined ships during their call at Indian ports for normal cargo operations, those who boarded ships that were diverted to India just for crew change, and also those who flew out of India on chartered flights to join newly constructed ships that were taken over by their owners from the shipbuilding yards in South Korea.
If the number of Indian seafarers who joined yard delivery ships are taken out, the number of jobs lost would have been higher.
However, there are contrary views suggesting that the difference between sign-on and sign-off put out by DG Shipping does not mean that Indian seafarers lost jobs on board ships during the pandemic.
As cruise lines shut operations globally in the wake of the health crisis, many Indian crew on board luxury liners were signed off and repatriated to India without the need for relievers. “Cruise line shut-downs are global. So, I don’t count that as jobs lost,” says Captain Sanjay Prashar, Managing Director of V R Maritime Services and a member on the government’s National Shipping Board.
Besides, staff in offshore projects disembarked after the projects were completed, he added.
Source: The Hindu Business Line