In the deep sea: Those on board are stuck due to COVID-19 lockdowns

Thousands of seafarers working for months are unable to return home due to the lockdowns

By Somraj Roychoudhury
Published: Thursday 09 April 2020

Have you ever wondered how the food lands on your plate — assuming not everything you consume is grown domestically, or where from the fuel that power your car comes from or how many kilometres that gizmo you love has travelled?

Some 90 per cent of the world’s food, medicines, fuel, chemicals, other raw materials and manufactured products move on ships. If they come to a halt, the world would stop.

The ships, of course, don’t move on their own, You need trained seafarers to work day and night in extreme conditions to move products from one place to another. They may not always be recognised for that but they are generally too busy to notice. That doesn’t mean others should stop taking note of them.

The world has been busy combating the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) the past few months. Most countries have had to take severe measures to control the virus SARS-CoV-2. The measures include lockdown or bars on public movement to various degrees.

Several governments have taken steps to bring back their citizen stuck in different parts of the world, which is appreciated. Somehow, however, almost every government has forgotten about those onboard.

Thousands like me on vessels have remained stuck, working extreme conditions, moving goods; and not being able to return home as borders have been locked down.

I am a chief engineer on one of the largest crude oil tankers in the world. My colleagues have been on board for up to 11 months and we have no idea when we can see our families again. There are thousands of ships like ours, all with people stuck in them.

Who will address our concerns, identify with our anxiety? We wonder.

The Indian Ministry of Shipping is yet to come up with a positive steps to take us, stranded seafarers, back.

With borders sealed, international flights cancelled, we are stuck on board, We know people are stuck on land too, some under quarantine. The difference is we are battling the high seas, extreme weather, pirates, etc while also carrying on moving essential commodities. We anyway do that for months, but look forward to the day we can sign off at the end of the term.

It’s high time that governments, global bodies and the International Maritime Organization come up with concrete solutions for seafearers to be repatriated and to let the wheels keep moving.

Those managing the ships have been at it for months and deserve a chance to return home so that the community can keep helping the world without fail. For if they fail, world economy will come to a standstill.

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