Amid this pandemic, crew change has become a dream for many seafarers. Though in the past few days, the process of crew change is picking up some momentum, some seafarers were lucky enough to sign off while others were glad to sign on.
The process of crew change is not same anymore. It’s a long, tedious process now. Recently, Paramveer Singh, an Indian seafarer joined the ship after a long time, here he shares his story with everyone, so it can help the fellow seafarers, if they are lucky enough to join anytime soon!
I had the opportunity of joining the vessel during this pandemic via the charter flight to Doha and a connecting onward flight to Amsterdam. I thought of penning down the experience for guidance if it may help any of the seafarers, who had been neglected during this pandemic by authorities, generally all over the globe.
Kudos to all the people onboard during this period and showing the patience where I believe many of the landlubbers would have given up hope.
The companies are working tirelessly with few associations to get the stranded seafarers back. I believe all the prayers offered truly by all of us have begun to show some results now, as the crew change have finally started.
Here is my timeline when I recently joined the ship:
7th June, 2020- Domestic Flight
The domestic flight to Delhi (SpiceJet) was a different experience altogether. People arrived at the airport 2-3 hours prior flight time, where they would generally think of going to the airport roughly an hour before the flight schedule in the pre COVID era. Bags were sanitized, Temperature checked at the entrance along with the ticket and ID check, Aarogya Setu app must be installed on your device as it is also checked prior allowing entry into the airport. Everything was done without touching any of the items.
The airport was less crowded as the flight schedules were split uniformly to avoid overcrowding, all instructions are clearly pasted on the walls, floors have markings indicating where to stand in order to maintain adequate distance among the passengers. Sensor operated sanitizer stands are placed at various locations.
All passengers were instructed to carry a copy of the boarding pass generated via web check-in as well as the baggage label to be pasted on the bags prior entering the airport. Currently as per DGCA guidelines only one check in bag per person is allowed. People at almost all check in counters could be seen maintaining social distancing. The security check-in was a normal affair.
The flight boarding took more than usual time. People in the middle seats were made to wear a disposable suit along with a face shield whereas rest of the passengers were given a kit consisting of a few sachets of Sanitizer, a mask and face shield. Being in the second row, I was one of the last few passengers to enter the plane and it was jam-packed.
All people with masks and shields on took their seats without any chaos. Perhaps, must have been a lucky day for the air crew to get such a decent flight experience. The air crew apart from the pilots were properly clad in disposable PPE from head to toe. Though there was no social distancing on the aircraft.
The onboard flight experience was different. No meals served and less people running to the washrooms at intervals.
Upon landing at the Delhi airport, all the passengers were seated at their respective seats and vacated the aircraft as per instructions of the crew. Good to see that happening in India where people are normally up from their seats as soon as the flight is on the runway. The shuttles from the aircraft to the airport were taking roughly 25 people at a time. The carousel area for the baggage claim was nicely marked with instructions to stand at adequate distance.
Upon exiting the airport, thermal scanning was done and that was the first phase to the long journey pending ahead.
07th June, 2020- Delhi to Doha Charter
The charter flight from Delhi to Doha- 6E9430 (operated by Indigo) was scheduled at 1645. Instructions given to all travelling on the flight was to be present 4 hours prior the scheduled time.
At noon, seafarers assembled at gate No.8 at T-3, IGI, Delhi. Crew members from various companies such as Scorpio, Maersk, NYK, Anglo and Fleet were present. All of us were asked to fill in two self declarations for international departures and get our bags santized.
A person from ATPI was present and assisting all those coming with the queries and checking was checking everyone’s details in the flyers list.
From entering the airport to completing the security check it took more than 2 hours for only those travelling on charter flights. Prior entering the airport, tickets and passport were checked by the CISF ( Central Industrial Security Force) without touching any of them. Both self declaration copies were handed over to the health department official. He checked the body temperature and COVID test results and acknowledged the checks. After completing his checks, he returned one stamped copy back for the immigration officers.
The process for baggage drop and collection of boarding passes took more than usual time due to less people at work which is completely understandable due to lockdown norms. Baggages chekced in for final destination. Seafarers were flying to Doha to catch the connecting flights to various other parts of the world. I was flying to join the vessel at Amsterdam.
The immigration/custom officers checked all documents thoroughly. Asked a few questions pertaining to the last few days, checked COVID test report and the 2nd self declaration copy was kept by them. The security check was done as usual.
Few of the duty free shops were open along with a few eating joints serving take-away orders only.
Once the security check was done, we were waiting at GATE 24 for boarding I texted the off-signer to give him an update and I could feel the joy in his words from the reply.
All the fellow seafarers were complying with the rules forwarded to us by the airlines and were standing tall like a disciplined army. A lot of fellow seafarers exchanging pleasant talks. All the seafarers, from Masters to Stewards were finally ready to resume their duties.
Similar to the domestic flight, travelers in the middle seats were made to wear a disposable suit along with a face shield whereas others were given a kit consisting of a few sachets of Sanitizer, a mask and face shield. Being in the middle seat this time I had to don the PPE suit.
Boarding commenced and we were all greeted by the air crew. The flight was neat and clean, with ”Welcome aboard, your lean, clean flying machine” written on the seats. All of our seats had a meal consisting of a water bottle, paper boat juice, sandwich, kachori and a slice of cake.
Boarding was complete with a short message though a very powerful one from the airline thanking all the seafarers for their role in everyone’s life and having to leave home at such time for work. All of us suddenly felt a zeal in us and felt happy to gain acknowledgement for the toil we put in. The aircraft could be heard with loud cheers and applauds. That’s what made the day for all of us. Thanks INDIGO! Here is the video of that announcement.
The time onboard the flight passed off with everyone glued to their seats and thinking of getting back to the work. It was a smooth flight upto Doha. Though again, there was no social distancing on the aircraft.
Landed in Doha, at 1840 hrs, waiting area was properly marked to maintain Social distancing with an empty chair in between. Even in the toilets, only alternate urinals were functional. In a lift only 4 people were allowed, and that too was properly indicated. All measures with regard to social distancing were of highest standards.
The transfer was done according to next flight connections. The people off to Amsterdam were the last to have transfer done as the flight was on the next day.
Security check was done after receiving the second boarding pass. The staff at Doha airport was very helpful. Just a gentle reminder here, please don’t carry any liquids in your hand baggage over 100ml. You will have to discard the same, including the sanitizer bottles.
I checked into the lounge for 55USD for 6hours as Next flight was on the 8th June, 0750 hrs.
08th June, 2020- Doha to Amsterdam
The Qatar Airways flight QR 273 from Doha to Amsterdam was scheduled at 0750. Doha airport was bustling with all the precautions in place. Flights to all around the world were taking off. It felt like this place had never come stopped even in these times.
Boarding was as usual, air crew were in proper PPE. Good to see the middle seat vacant in the entire flight. When they mean social distancing, they were following it to the core. This was like a normal international flight with COVID precautions. We were handed out a small notice with precautions for COVID and a Health Screening Form on departure from Doha, which was to be duly filled and kept ready for verification in Amsterdam. There were regular announcements on the flight to maintain distance from each other. Meals were served in the flight.
The flight touched ground in Amsterdam at 1310 hrs, and it was finally time to get onboard soon. The process of disembarkation was done maintaining distance protocol. People left the flight and were made to wait in for a while as they were sending in groups of 20 for immigration. Our declaration forms were checked along with passports. Our immigration was completed by 1440 hrs and we were out of the airport by 1450 hrs. The agent received as usual and we went over to a hotel in the aerocity for a night’s stay as we were scheduled to join the vessel on the 9th June morning. All of us had been longing for a good sleep as we had already traveled for about 36 hours now.
09th June, 2020
Agent Picked us from the hotel at 0615 hrs, we went for immigration. All went smooth till we boarded the vessel. Reached onboard and checks carried out as per company SOP like bags sanitized, temperature check, distance maintaining, separate cabins given to shower and change to fresh clothes, etc.
Once all that was done, began the process of handing over. At last a relief for the off signers who had long been overdue. Yes, the journey was too long to get onboard, but it really didn’t matter. It was a proud moment for me as I am a front-liner.
Thanks to all those who made it possible for the stranded onboard seafarers to go back to their homes with their loved ones, and seafarers like me got an opportunity to get back to the work during the pandemic.
I would like to say- Not all those who wander are lost- Some of them are seafarers!
Let’s take a pledge as seafarers to stand tall besides each other and be proud of our profession. One life is all we have, let there be love, laughter and peace always.
May we all arrive home to our loved ones safe!