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Booster Covid dose essential for Indian seafarers: MASSA

Such a move will help all stakeholders of the maritime industry to avoid disruption of supply chains globally, says Capt Mahendra Bhasin, Chairman, MASSA

MASSA Chairman Capt Mahendra Bhasin

MASSA Chairman Capt Mahendra Bhasin

India's leading shipping association, The Maritime Association of Shipowners, Shipmanagers and Agents (MASSA) has appealed to the Indian government for including Indian seafarers amongst the workers to be eligible for precautionary booster dose of Covid vaccine upon meeting the criteria as stated by the country's health ministry.

MASSA Chairman Capt Mahendra Bhasin said: "Indian government designated all Indian seafarers under the category of 'key workers' who provide essential services a long ago. Considering that they had to travel overseas for discharging their professional duties and hence needed an added protection against Covid infections, every seafarer of Indian nationality was also permitted by the Indian government a long ago to get the second dose of Covid vaccine after a span of four weeks subsequent to getting the first dose. The guidelines issued recently by the Indian government in the ongoing Omicron variant pandemic phase propose a third Covid dose as a booster shot to be administered soon to the select categories of Indian workers."

"Thus, every fully vaccinated Indian seafarer should be included in the permitted category for getting booster doses of Covid vaccine in India to avoid an unfortunate outbreak of Covid infections on-board the cargo ships world-wide. Such a move will undoubtedly help all stakeholders of the maritime industry to avoid disruption of supply chains globally. In the ongoing third wave of Covid pandemic, it is absolutely necessary to deliver essential supplies of all types on-time at every port across the globe. The booster dose support to all Indian seafarers thus becomes very vital in the current scenario," added Capt Bhasin.

Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping of India said that he has already communicated MASSA's concern and request to the Indian health ministry and Indian shipping ministry for taking an appropriate decision as soon as possible in the interest of Indian seafarers. "I am in 'isolation' currently due to the Covid infection and hope to resume my duty at the earliest possible," said Mr Kumar.

MASSA CEO Capt Shiv Halbe added, "Barring a few noble exceptions, India being one of them, the majority of countries have also been extremely harsh on the movement of seafarers despite all United Nations bodies getting together and declaring them as 'key workers'! The seafarers and their families have endured misery piled on them during this pandemic to ensure that cargo moves seamlessly. Being a 'silent trade', no one seems to take serious notice of the near human rights crisis regarding violation of seafarers' rights. It's only when incidents such as 'MV Ever Given' happen that the world seems to take notice of the role played by ships and seafarers in keeping the global trade moving."

Capt Halbe said that though vaccination of seafarers has gathered pace and definitely reduced cases of Covid on board, this has not necessarily translated into easing in travel restrictions for the seafarers from and to their places of duty. Time has come to consider some affirmative action. We hope, just as International Maritime Organization has set up 'Port State' control regime to ensure safe shipping and various MOU's publish 'white, grey and black' lists, similar arrangement is also made for ports where an index must include various facilities for the seafarers such as medical facilities, shore leave, ease of embarkation and disembarkation, etc. Let the World Bank include 'treatment of ship's crew' as one of the criteria for benchmarking 'eases of doing business' index. Since the seafarers are primarily engaged in movement of goods and thus are part of the commercial world, it stands to reason that that treatment of seafarers should have a commercial impact.

"After what the modern seafarer has to endure, it's no surprise that mental health issues on board the cargo ships are rising! Is counseling of seafarers the answer to the problem or changing things on the shore side will solve the problem? It's an unfortunate situation where seafarers and shipowners, both are victims," added Capt Halbe.

Seafaring has been the world's first globalized industry. India, being a labour intensive country, has always provided quality seafarers for national and international shipping. India is recognized globally as a reliable and important source of marine manpower. Indian seafarers, both officers and the ratings are much sought after by the maritime nations of the world. India now provides over 9.35 per cent of the global seafarers and ranks third in the list of the large seafarers supplying nations to the world maritime industry. Government of India's ambitious 'Maritime Vision 2030' project has targeted to increase the global share of Indian seafarers to over five lakh in the next ten years.

Hemang Palan
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