23 March 2020 [Updated 17:50]
“I was about to join a vessel and now I am completely out of cash,”
What do we do? What about our families?”
“Our mental state is getting worse on board day-by-day as it has been a year since we’re away from our home… Please help us”
Quotes from seafarers: 23 March 2020
Contact Us with welfare issues directly related to COVID-19
London. UK. Human Rights at Sea has been deluged with cases of seafarers seeking to highlight their plight after being retained on vessels after sign-off, left ashore in foreign countries unable to return to their families without funds, and not having sufficient information being passed to them due to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
Noting the increasing closures of State access to vessels, suspension of shore-leave, the re-routing of vessels without crew change-overs and crew being unable to return home to their families, Human Rights at Sea is informed that the issue is being urgently addressed by the likes of ICS, ITF and Intermanager, with inputs from the global welfare organisations.
Nonetheless, the flow of cases in to the charity, particularly from Indian seafarers, has been unprecedented. In just four hours, 24 cases came into the NGO from seafarers seeking to raise greater awareness of their circumstances.
Reports of non-payment of wages, contract extensions without informed consent, crew being left in foreign States to pay hotel bills and to seek flights home using their own funds, appear to be increasing.
Many seafarers who have contacted the charity understand the gravity of the global pandemic, but the flow of information to them is making them feel even more isolated.
Most concerning, is the apparent lack of direct engagement with seafarers to keep them informed and updated, and therefore to be able to be part of decision-making process involving their employment, personal liberty and access to their families.
Capt. Pradeep Kumar contacted the charity this morning and commented that:
“We understand the COVID impact on the world community and we seaferes are suffering the most especially where the crew changes are not allowed by the port authority. It is making seafarers mentally sick and which is going to lead to accidents. At most of the port , seafarer can disembark but need 14 days quarantine.”
“But following point[s] to be noted,”
“Ship are running and calling [at] port regularly with [the] Pilot on board. Nobody talks about danger[s] of COVID infection to [the] pilot or seafarer because it is business. Regular cargo operation is going on with shore staff on board. Nobody talks about danger[s] of COVID infection and 14 days quarantine, because it is business. Regular stores and spares are being supplied on board. Nobody talks about danger[s] of COVID infection because it is business.”
He went on to highlight that it is only when the seafarer goes to sign-off that there is a discussion about the COVID infection.
In terms of protecting seafarers responsible for maintain global trade, Capt. Kumar queried whether or not the “port can allow embarkation and disembarkation in [a] protective suit or at least after [a] COVID test? There [therefore] won’t be any chance of spreading COVID Virus.”
He went on to state in bold that: “NO CARE ABOUT SEAFARER’S MENTAL AGONY ESPECIALLY AT THE TIME OF THEIR RELIEF”.
Mehrzad Wadiwalla contacted the charity and is an Indian seafarer stuck in Zarzis, Tunisia. He arrived 6 March via Tunis to join his ship, but by 16 March the port stopped crew changes and he had to return to a hotel. He has since tried to book flights home to India from his own funds, and now is paying himself for his food and accommodation. His funds will not last indefinitely and he remains away from his family.
2nd Officer Hitesh Jain, currently off Sharjah, UAE after his contract was completed on 15 January following a transit from China, has been on the vessel for 8 1/2 months without the ability to get off. Visas have now been suspended in the UAE and he has a new born baby he has yet to see.
CEO, David Hammond, said: “We did not expect such a significant response this morning. There appears to be a tipping-point which has just been passed for many seafarers who now feel abandoned in the widest sense of the word. Those who made contact are asking for their cases to be highlighted to prevent fellow seafarers from being placed in the same situation, with others recognising the necessary health constraints while reflecting on owners’ efforts to assist.”