NEW DELHI, April 6: About 40,000 crew and seafarers stranded on cargo and cruise vessels across the globe are awaiting return to Indian shores, with the government assuring to extend help once the nationwide lockdown on account of coronavrius outbreak is lifted, maritime bodies have said.
There are about 15,000 seafarers onboard about 500 cargo vessels across the globe, and another 25,000 on cruise ships.
Maritime bodies like NUSI, MUI and MASSA told PTI they have raised the issue with the Shipping Ministry, which has assured to extend all possible help for return of these seafarers after the lockdown is lifted.
"It is estimated that around 40,000 Indian seafarers are stranded on cargo and cruise vessels across the globe and are waiting to come back home since their job contracts have expired," said Capt Shiv Halbe, CEO of Maritime Association of Shipowners, Shipmanagers and Agents (MASSA).
He said the issue was raised before Shipping Minister Mansukh Lal Manadaviya, who assured their safe passage back home once the lockdown is lifted.
"However, the minister said that the seafarers will need to be tested and then quarantined or isolated," he added.
The maritime bodies and other stakeholders from port sector held a meeting with Mandaviya, through video conferencing, to discuss the plight of Indian seafarers, who are outside India currently, and various issues faced by the Indian maritime industry due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Halbe called the meeting "extremely fruitful" and said he expects the government to take steps after the lockdown is over.
Maritime Union of India (MUI) General Secretary Amar Singh Thakur said, "The minister agreed that there is a need to treat seafarers as 'essential workers' and to provide smooth relief facilities in ports. Their welfare should be looked after whilst they are onboard and in transit."
National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) General Secretary Abdulgani Serang said, "I assured the minister that NUSI will certainly do the needful to financially support Indian seafarers in the current scenario when Indian economy is passing through a rough phase due to pandemic across the globe."
He said NUSI has earmarked a corpus of Rs 10 crore to support retired Indian seafarers, disabled seafarers, widows of seafarers and jobless seafarers who have been out of job for the past nine months.
"This novel move is aimed at alleviating their economic hardships in the current pandemic scenario," he added.
Mandaviya on Friday had exhorted port officials and other stakeholders to convert the present crisis into an opportunity by ensuring smooth cargo operations so that supplies are not hit during the lockdown.
The representatives from ports sector had raised concerns on high port operation cost, port congestion, shortage of labourers, movement of workers and truck drivers, among others, due to the lockdown.
India has 12 major ports -- Deendayal (erstwhile Kandla), Mumbai, JNPT, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Kamarajar (earlier Ennore), V.O. Chidambaranar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia). - PTI