NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Hundreds of Indian Seafarers Left Stranded Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
Team Sea and Coast | 27/06/2020

The Manila waters are home to an unprecedented disaster right now. Anchored in the blue expanse of the Philippines are over 20 ships with thousands of crew members from dozens of nations waiting to go back home but their requests have been falling on deaf ears.

Crew changes by operators of container ships, tankers and bulk vessels are being pushed forward since February, when the pandemic hit. Countless seafarers have been orphaned by their governments in the wake of the pandemic. Thousands of seafarers are stuck off the coast of Philippines, waiting for repatriation to their home countries. But is anyone even listening to their woes?

Case in Point: MS Noordam

Amongst thousands of these desolate crew members on board, there are hundreds that come from India. One such vessel with Indian crew members is a Holland America owned cruise line ‘MS Noordam’.

The crew on this ship is said to have been stuck on board for three months now, with their repatriation flight getting cancelled at the last moment. Four of the crew members have even initiated a hunger strike, after the chartered flight scheduled to carry them got suspended.

The company told its employees that since the Mumbai airport was scheduled to receive hundreds of repatriation flights in the wake of Vande Bharat Mission spanning from 20 June to 26 June, there was increasing workload on the Airport authorities and any additional flights would put more pressure on the existing quarantine facilities in Mumbai. It also assured the crew that it would pressurise public quarantine centres. But those on board are having a hard time coping with this development.

Contrary to the company’s narrative, the Indian government authorities claim that they have not withheld any permission for any chartered flight landings. When asked about this an Indian official responded to Mumbai Mirror, a Mumbai-based daily newspaper, “Vande Bharat flights to Mumbai have increased in the last few days, but there’s no shortage of quarantine facilities for repatriation flights.” 

MS Noordam is just one of the approximately two dozen ships lined up on the coasts of the Philippines hoping to be able to make some sense out of this crisis.

Distress Call

Below is an excerpt from an email received by the All India Seafarers & General Workers Union from a distressed seafarer stranded in Manila waters:

We were the first ship in the Asian fleet to stop our cruising but we are still stuck here. Crew from all other nationalities from our ship have been disembarked. We are stuck in the Manila Bay since the past one month. It’s already been over 4 months on board.

Other ships like P&O, Princess and CUNARD are also anchored at Manila, but they have already arranged chartered flights for the Indian crew on board from Manila. Ships like Costa Atlantica and Costa Favolosa which were affected by COVID-19, have managed to disembark their crew and most of them are already with their families.

After consulting with on-board management, we are certain that there is no hope of repatriation until the next month. They said that they are working on it. They told us that there is no co-operation from the Indian government or the manning agent.

We don't even have proper internet connection here to be able to speak with our families. Some of us have also started avoiding calls from home because we don't have anything to say to them about our repatriation.

The ship management is taking good care of us but as time passes by, we are getting frustrated. In these hard times, everyone wants to be with their families supporting them. They need us now. I hope the Indian government will now take some actions and help us out with our repartition.

Solution? IMO’s 12-Step Roadmap

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently said, “The inability to rotate crews has emerged as the biggest challenge facing maritime operators.” IMO beckoned governments to recognize seafarers as essential workers for global supply chains and exempt them from travel barriers.

Airport closures across the globe left countless stranded and have strained all oceanic operations— from cargo operations to bulk carriers that transport raw industrial materials to factories… to the container ships that are at the heart of the supply chain along with cruise ships that play a huge role in tourism and entertainment.

IMO said that it is pushing governments to adopt a 12-step road map to facilitate crew movements and clear the way for a sailor’s travel from home to ship, including flights, as well as return trips.

Find IMO’s 12-Step Roadmap here