This is an ongoing and developing process at senior government and agency level which has also seen the NHRC engage with the UK charity.
According to Human Rights at Sea:
Around 10% of seafarers working on the global merchant fleet originate from India, and the problems that India is addressing affect seafarers of other nationalities. As a rough estimate, over 2,000 seafarers are being abandoned annually and more than 300 are being imprisoned, with the nations involved being largely unsympathetic to their plight.
FINS spokesman, Captain Sanjay Prashar, who has assisted through the International Maritime Federation (IMF) numerous abandoned and imprisoned Indian seafarers, has highlighted the need for effective coordination between different agencies including Indian embassies, the Indian Directorate General of Shipping, Flag States, P&I Clubs, shipowners, seafarers unions, recruitment agencies, civil society and NGOs.
According to FINS, the number of abandoned Indian seafarers has risen since 2017. There were 60 in 2016, 176 in 2017 and 137 in 2018. The majority of abandoned seafarers are stranded in Iran, Vietnam, Malaysia, the UAE and Thailand.
Concerns about illegal recruitment practices, ill-treatment, loss of liberty and abandonment go beyond the scope of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, which is focused on providing good working and labour rights conditions for seafarers.
While the MLC provides for repatriation of abandoned seafarers, it does not oblige the insurance company involved to provide a replacement seafarer as required by many port authorities. Ensuring effective and timely action on seafarer abandonment cases crosses government boundaries, both nationally and internationally.
The July 2019 meeting agreed Action Plans to address the problems raised:
- The NHRC agreed to fast-track any complaints received from seafarers.
- Indian embassies and consulates overseas are being notified of the issues seafarers face and urged to provide immediate legal and other assistance. The Foreign Secretary and other government officials will also be kept up-to-date on seafarer issues on an on-going basis.
- Details of Indian seafarers currently stranded overseas will be sent to the Ministry for External Affairs and the Ministry of Shipping.
- The Directorate General of Shipping will build awareness about fraudulent agents and training institutes among those wishing to enter the industry.
- A Working Group on Rights of Indian Seafarers was constituted in the NHRC to develop standard operating procedures for addressing human rights issues across the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Shipping, State Governments and law enforcement agencies.