The U.K.-based NGO Human Rights at Sea has been deluged with cases of seafarers seeking to highlight their plight after being retained on vessels after sign-off or having been left ashore in foreign countries without funds.
The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is being urgently addressed by organizations such as the ICS, ITF and Intermanager, with input from the global welfare organizations.
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, says the NGO.
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. They feel a lack of direct engagement and an inability 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 saying: “We understand the COVID impact on the world community, and we seafarers 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 ports, seafarer can disembark but need 14 days quarantine.”
He continues: “Ship are running and calling at port regularly with the Pilot on board. Nobody talks about danger of COVID-19 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 of COVID-19 infection and 14 days quarantine, because it is business. Regular stores and spares are being supplied on board. Nobody talks about danger of COVID-19 infection, because it is business.”
Indian seafarer Mehrzad Wadiwalla contacted the charity whilst stuck in Zarzis, Tunisia. He arrived on March 6 via Tunis to join his ship, but by 16 March the port had stopped crew changes, and he had to return to a hotel. He has since tried to book flights home to India with his own funds and is now paying for his food and accommodation. His funds will not last indefinitely, and he remains away from his family
Another seafarer, Hitesh Jain, is currently off Sharjah, UAE, after his contract was completed on January 15 following a transit from China. He has been on the vessel for over eight 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.
Other seafarer comments the charity has received include:
“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.”
Human Rights at Sea CEO, David Hammond, said: “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 recognizing the necessary health constraints while reflecting on owners’ efforts to assist.”