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Published on: Feb. 8, 2021, 12:55 a.m.
Seafarers as key workers
  • Thakur: take care of them

By Hemang Palan

India’s oldest Union of merchant navy officers, The Maritime Union of India (MUI) has urged the Indian government to take cognizance of ‘the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change’ in the formulation of ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’ by The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways of India.

MUI general secretary Amar Singh Thakur said: “The Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, a declaration released by the global maritime industry recently, primarily focuses on recognising seafarers as key workers by all governments worldwide in line with the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on 1 December, 2020. While finalising the intricacies of ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’, The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways of India should hence permanently accord the status of ‘key workers’ to Indian seafarers.”

“Since seafarers are the frontline workers of the maritime industry carrying 90 per cent of global trade, it is extremely important to take care of their mental and physical well-being during unusual circumstances and crises such as pandemic, war, etc. If designated as ‘key workers’ by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways of India, Indian seafarers will be able to play a pivotal role in the global supply chain in the future through implementation of high-quality crew change protocols and SOPs supported by the Indian government,” added Thakur.

A prominent voice of the Indian maritime industry and managing director of Suntech Ship Management Company, Captain Sanjay Srivastava said: “The Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change also highlights the implementation of high-quality health protocols aboard cargo vessels world-wide. Indian seafarers have been traditionally known for their determination since ages as they have continued to trade through ships despite the roughest seas or piracy infested waters. The proposed ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’ document should also lay emphasis on the novel initiatives to strengthen social, mental and physical wellness of the Indian seafaring workforce. Such a move will indeed enhance the global share of Indian seafarers in the years to come.”

Shared responsibility

At the recently concluded ‘Chintan Baithak’ – a conclave held by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways of India – Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya discussed modalities to bolster the growth of the Indian maritime sector by designing and implementing ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’ in consultation with the stakeholders of the Indian shipping industry.

Recognising that they have a shared responsibility to resolve the crew change crisis, more than 450 global maritime companies and shipping organisations – a taskforce of stakeholders from across the maritime value chain – recently signed the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change. The Neptune Declaration urges the implementation of four main actions to address the crisis. The Declaration emphasises core concerns concerning the maritime industry presently.

Issues such as recognising seafarers as key workers and giving them priority access to Covid-19 vaccines, establishing and implementing gold standard health protocols based on existing best practice, increasing collaboration between ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew changes, and ensuring air connectivity between key maritime hubs across the globe for seafarers, are highlights which have been debated in The Neptune Declaration.

It states that the Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crew change crisis which has led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being impacted and, in many instances, left stranded on ships beyond the expiry of their contracts. Despite significant efforts by international organisations, governments, industry associations, labour unions, NGOs and individual companies, the issue is still far from resolved. This is not an acceptable way to treat seafarers, who are the frontline workers of the maritime industry carrying 90 per cent of global trade. Fatigue after extended periods at sea has significant consequences on the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers. It also increases the risk of maritime incidents and environmental disasters, and poses a wider threat to the integrity of global supply chains, which depend on safe and reliable maritime transport.

The Declaration indicates that while high-quality health protocols have been adopted internationally, they have not been consistently implemented in practice. This has led authorities to perceive seafarers as a Covid-19 risk, which has limited the possibilities of crew changes. Implementing high-quality crew change protocols will reduce the economic risk of disrupted supply chains but will lead to increased short-term costs. Finally, the disruption of international air travel has reduced the number of flights, causing connectivity issues between major crew change hubs and major seafaring nations. This has complicated crew changeovers.

Lakhs of Indian seafarers will benefit if the issues flagged in the Neptune Declaration get addressed in the formulation of ‘Maritime India Vision-2030’.

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