Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Ban on Crew Changes Starts to Bite as Oxygen Equipment Distributed in India

Many Seafarers Trapped On Board as Pandemic Sweeps Subcontinent
Shipping News Feature

INDIA – With the country's health system teetering on the brink of collapse in the wake of the unprecedented Indian Covid-19 outbreak, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Seafarers' Trust is offering much needed support by providing oxygen concentrators and emergency supplies for affected seafarers and their families.

The ITF Seafarers’ Trust says that hundreds of lives will be saved with the help of the two new emergency projects it is funding, which are to be delivered through two Indian-based seafarers’ unions. The two grants total £215,000 (US$305,085).

The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) will use its network of branches across the country to deliver the oxygen concentrators free of charge to seafarers and their families. The initiative is part of a wider union project to increase the number of ventilator beds in government hospitals.

A second grant from the ITF Seafarers’ Trust will fund supplies for Indian seafarers and their families who are experiencing hardship during lockdown or in periods of quarantine. The Forward Seamen’s Union of India (FSUI) will coordinate getting logistical support and essential goods to seafarers in locked down ports, as well as providing assistance to families who have lost loved ones to the virus. Katie Higginbottom, Head of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, commented:

“Last year Indian seafarers’ unions were at the forefront of getting emergency supplies and hand sanitisers to seafarers as the pandemic was just beginning. Now we are all bearing witness to the human tragedy unfolding in India with this deadly second wave, and the ITF Seafarers’ Trust is proud to support unions stepping up to save as many lives as possible and reduce the hardship being faced by Indian seafarers and their families.”

General Secretary of NUSI Abdulgani Serang said the grant for oxygen concentrators will save lives because it helps address a chronic lack of breathing-supporting equipment in the country. Serang said:

“People all over India, including seafarers, have been trying to source oxygen cylinders or oxygen concentrators for themselves or their loved ones so that they can battle this virus at home. The hospitals, too, need more of these machines, many patients cannot get oxygen beds and lives are being lost. This grant will save hundreds of lives.”

Concerns are growing in the maritime industry that the health crisis in India may lead to a doubling of the number of seafarers unable to get home due to governments’ Covid-related border and travel restrictions in a matter of weeks. Already 200,000 seafarers are estimated to be trapped working aboard vessels beyond their initial contracts.

Key crew change hubs Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates have banned those with recent travel to India from entering or transiting through their ports and airports. Indian nationals represent 1 in 8 seafarers of the global seafaring workforce. David Heindel, Chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Section, said:

“New restrictions targeting Indian seafarers will worsen the crew change crisis. We need systems that get Covid-negative and fully vaccinated seafarers onto ships to relieve crews who have been on board for far too long.

“Our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in India. It’s a double-blow for Indian seafarers at sea who are watching their families suffer, while they also face the prospect of many more months trapped working on board unable to get home to comfort their loved ones.

“These substantial grants show that labour representatives are prepared to do whatever we can to reduce the impact of the virus. But the long-term solution remains universal access to vaccines for all seafarers by everyone doing their part: government, union, business; simultaneously and globally.

“National Covid outbreaks like that being seen in India right now will continue to happen until the whole world has this virus under control, worsening the crew change crisis and risking essential supply chains. No one is safe until we are all safe.”