‘9 Months at Sea Amid COVID Pandemic, No Option to Work From Home’

I am are seafarer sailing away from home since September 2019.

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My Report
5 min read
Seafarer sailing away from home since September 2019 shares his experience.
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I am a seafarer sailing away from home since September 2019.

Us seafarers are strong, alone, brave and live a life full of risk. I am a Navigating Officer doing my watch every day. Everyone on ship has been working under pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic and what seems like a never ending contract. Hence, this time we feel stuck, not just physically but mentally too.

We are all depressed and feeling a strong anxiety within. Not having seen our families for months is taking a toll on us. It was around 23 September 2019, when I had gotten my medical test done in Mumbai and took a flight to Greece, set to sail for 5-6 months as per the contract. It has been nine months now and we are losing hope by the day.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, companies have not been sending their ships to Italy for loading because it is one of the most affected countries. We were however told that we are going Italy. We were tense and shocked.

Whenever we reach a port, 10-12 people come on the ship to inspect the vessel. Some do cargo work and some survey the tanks. This time however only 4-5 people came on ship. As we know incubation period of the virus is 4-5 days and if one person gets infected during discharge, nobody here can save their life because we share smoke room and mess room.

Control room at sea.
Control room at sea.
(Photo Courtesy: Citizen journalist)

Another concern is that after discharge, we cannot stay long on port and if one crew member or officer gets infected during that time, we will be in the sea by the time it is detected. Therefore during these 4-5 days, we have to strictly follow distancing from one another and wash hands every 10 minutes. We do not have any medicine related to coronavirus or any hospital over the ship, except first aid treatment. So precaution is the only cure. If food items come from ports, we sanitise them first. We relax only after passing the initial 4-5 days.

Living in Fear

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2019. Since we are not allowed to go outside the ship because of the fear of COVID-19, I had to call my doctor in India for video consultation. I had to go on ‘shore leave’ for urgent tests and that too in Italy, after taking permission from the office and port authority.

I went to the clinic with all precautions. It was an amazing feeling to touch the ground and smell the soil, to see people after seven months. In Augusta City, it was wonderful and astonishing as it was quiet and deserted. I wished to return home but could not. I was later told I got the wrong diagnosis and was taking medicine for the wrong ailment.

Augusta City.
Augusta City.
(Photo Courtesy: Citizen journalist)

Unlike those who have the option of working from home, it is our job to be on ship. When the whole country is witnessing the poor situation of migrant labour and their struggle to reach home, we are unable to speak properly to our loved ones. Only when we sail near the port so we get proper network to make a video call. Else we depend on the ship’s wireless network which is very weak.

These are our usual story but this time we have stayed longer than our contract time. Can you all believe, we have been on the ship for more than 9 months? We haven’t touched the ground and are far away from natural surroundings.

The condition is on board is getting stressful with less sleep and proper rest. We have other requirements that go beyond daily meals. We are not allowed to go out from ship, our passport has been kept with our captain.

If we get infected, no one will come for us and we will be deserted in sea under the mercy of mother nature. Our country is not ready to call us back. It is as if International Maritime Organisation, International Labour Organisation, and Transport Workers' Federation etc are sleeping. They work for the benefit of ship-owners and contracting states, certainly not for the benefits of seafarers.

The blue expanse. 
The blue expanse. 
(Photo Courtesy: Citizen journalist)

If there is trade by shipping, a dedicated corridor for crew repatriation needs to be created. Contracting governments have to identify ports around the world where these crew changes can take place. Flights on weekly basis can be arranged for crew changes on these ports and can be shared by shipping companies as per their number of crew.

Bridge room.
Bridge room.
(Photo Courtesy: Citizen journalist)

Further, as WHO has categorised most of the European countries like Italy, Spain, etc as ultra high risk areas, freight to port in these countries is also on higher side while oil price is low, giving ship-owners an opportunity of chartering their vessels repeatedly to these places. This is creating a dangerous situation for sailors, as chances and probability of getting infected is very high.

We cannot even resist as the window for going home is closed. I know you all are staying at home and stayed for quite a time. We hope our voices are heard soon so that we can stay at home too.

(As told to citizen journalist Rashmi Kumari.)

(My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

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