Air India recently issued a notice in which the eligibility criteria for purchase of tickets for repatriation flights were listed. One of the points mentioned in this list was: “Seafarers with valid CDCs and an Employers’ letter indicating the name and details of the holder, and the port of commencement of duty (USA, UK and Singapore only), may also purchase tickets for outbound flights.
Air India also stated that it is agreeable to fly Indian seafarers to USA, UK and Singapore to help them join ships. Notably, Air India is operating various overseas flights to bring the Indian nationals stranded abroad under Vande Bharat Mission.
As per a report published in The Hindu, one of the top shipping Ministry official said that “Repatriation of Indian seafarers from overseas is still being looked at,”
For outbound journey, India seafarers can make use of the e-passes issued by the Directorate General of Shipping to go to the airport.
Will This Plan Work?
While the intentions of the government are right, the plan doesn’t seem to be foolproof.
Some of the reasons why this plan can fail are:
- Normally, the shipping companies arrange the flights for joining seafarers in such a way that the vessel is already in the port or is expected to arrive soon. If the vessel is expected to arrive after a few days, companies have to arrange suitable accommodation for seafarers. In the present situation, this will be a humongous task as hotels are also not fully functional.
- The tickets are not purchased personally be seafarers but by the companies.
- A typical crew change, for instance, in Singapore or the USA or UK, requires the seafarer to travel to that country, after undergoing the mandatory merchant navy medical test in India. If there is no VISA on arrival facility, the company arranges an agent to receive the seafarer on arrival. In present conditions, it will be a difficult task.
- Presently, Singapore is under lockdown till June 1, and contacting the shipping company there or arranging for an agent will be very difficult.
To enable safe crew changes overseas, a more planned approach will be required from the government and the Ministry of Shipping. Air India agreeing to fly Indian Seafarers will not be enough. The shipping companies and India’s Ministry of Shipping will need to work in close proximity to come out with a more workable plan.