Mumbai, April 23
Over 40,000 Seafarers stranded at different ports are expected to get great relief with issuance of orders on the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for sign-on and sign-off, by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to allow them to continue their duty or disembark and return home.
As per the notification issued by MHA on 21 April, the seafarers will have to intimate their travel and contact history for the last 28 days to the ship owner/RPA(Robotic Process Automation) agency by e mail as per procedure laid down by the Director General of Shipping (DGS). They will be examined by DGS approved medical examiner. Besides, they will be screened based on their travel history for the last 28 days and if found asymptomatic for COVID- 19, then will be proceeded for sign-on.
Similarly those whose contracts have expired and are due for sign-off, will have to go through the same procedure and the local authority will have to make arrangement to quarantine them as per prevailing system.
They will be given special passes by local authorities to enable them to reach their homes.
In first such case a cruise vessel “Marella Discovery” (carrying flag of Malta), with 146 Indian seamen aboard, is expected to land at the Mumbai port soon. The seafarers will undergo a full medical check up and will be quarantined at a building made available to them for isolation, besides following all other protocols of the Covid-19 pandemic. After dropping the Indian crewmen on board at Mumbai, the ‘’Marella Discovery’’ will sail to Norway.
The ‘’Marella Discovery’’ was scheduled to sail to Kochi, New Mangalore, Goa and then Mumbai from 2 April to 6 April. However, after the COVID -19 outbreak, all the passengers on the cruise ship disembarked at Laem Chabang, Thailand, on 14 March. After it arrived in Kochi on April 12, the crew was denied permission to disembark and they continued sailing to reach Mumbai. Since then, the crew awaited the permission to disembark though none on board was infected.
After Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was apprised of their plight, a team of top officials, including Principal Secretary in Chief Ministers Office (CMO) Vikas Kharge, Additional Chief Secretary to CMO Ashish Kumar Singh and Mumbai Port Trust Chairman Sanjay Bhatia followed up the issue with the Centre.
Following the intervention by Thackeray, who spoke with the Union Minister of State for Shipping Mansukh Mandaviya, MHA issued orders on the standard operating procedure (SOP) for sign-on and sign-off for the Indian seafarers, paving the way for the return of an estimated 40,000 sailors stuck on different ships.
The stranded seafarers include over 15,000 onboard nearly 500 cargo vessels and another 25,000 on cruise ships across the globe. National Union of Seafarers of India (NSUI), Maritime Union of India (MUI) and The Maritime Association of Ship owners Ship managers and Agents(MASSA) had also raised the issue with the shipping ministry, for the return of these seafarers after the lockdown is lifted.
In a petition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mandaviya, the NUSI had pointed out that the seafarers, including those on board the cruise ships, who have finished their contract were stranded abroad and were accommodated onboard their ships. Some of the seafarers who had signed off from their ships were held up in hotels abroad. Also some of them were stuck within India due to the lockdown.