No shore leave: Sailors stuck on ships, Covid protocols keeps kin at bay
A sailor from Bulk Carrier MV Maithili said the ship recently reached the Chennai Port but the crew were not allowed to leave.
CHENNAI: Indian seafarers on coastal ships, including foreign flagged vessels, are being denied shore leave as the port health authorities in Chennai are unsure whether to let them visit their relatives due to the Covid-19 protocols.
Shore leave is when sailors are allowed to leave a docked ship. It can range from a couple of hours to a few days.
A sailor from Bulk Carrier MV Maithili said the ship recently reached the Chennai Port but the crew were not allowed to leave. "We were told the Port Health Authority has not granted shore leave," said the sailor, who has sent a representation to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in Chennai.
Another sailor, from MV CS Satira, said his family wanted to visit him and stay onboard for two days. "My owners had made arrangements but the port health officer denied permission," said the sailor in his representation.
K Sreekumar, an inspector with the London-based International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), said though Covid restrictions have been relaxed across India, the Ministry of Health has directed port health officers not to let crew leave ships due to the pandemic.
"The director general of shipping should take up the matter with the Ministry and ensure the norms are relaxed. Even seafarers on coastal ships are denied shore leave. Several Indian seafarers have contacted me from ships in Indian ports, and are upset over being unwelcome in their own country. This is a violation of seafarers' rights. When even foreign tourists are allowed to move freely across the country, seafarers are unwelcome," said Sreekumar.
Sailors Helpline coordinator Manoj Joy said, "Cruise ship Empress is operating between Chennai and Visakhapatnam with thousands of passengers, without Covid restrictions. They are free to enter and leave the port. Similarly, airline pilots and cabin crew are allowed to enter and leave the airport freely. Only seafarers are targeted.
"In the name of Covid, seafarers are forced to stay on board like prisoners. Indian seafarers are not permitted to meet their families. Recently, three Chennai-based seafarers who arrived from abroad were not allowed to meet their families in Chennai despite several requests. The families too were not allowed on board. These undue and unreasonable restrictions are impacting seafarers' mental and physical well-being. They are leading to an increase in suicide cases at sea. Cruise passengers and airline crew enjoy preferential treatment," he said.
A port health officer said Chennai Port is keen to help sailors avail shore leave. "We have written to the Union Home Ministry and Health Ministry," he said. We wanted to help, but were told to follow the Covid guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health on February 10," he added.