The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to all aspects of life. It has adversely affected everyone, physically and economically. Various business verticals became paralysed. Countries declared nationwide lockdowns, imposing restrictions and incapacitating the transportation of people and materials between states or across the globe.
One community that was heavily affected was the fraternity of seafarers, who were unable to sign off after completing their sailing tenure on board a ship. Moreover, their replacements were unable to sign on. Taking due cognizance of their plight and to ensure smooth crew changes, the DG Shipping of India issued guidelines to allow crews to sign off and on at Indian ports.
J. M. Baxi & Co. was the first shipping agency to commence crew sign-offs and sign-ons with the support of various authorities, and so far, there have been more than 16,000 crew changes, despite various challenges.However, the most challenging situations at Indian ports were undertaking the emergency medical evacuations of crew members who did not have COVID-19. Each case required meticulous planning, coordination with various authorities, dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and overcoming the restrictions imposed on the movement of people and vehicles etc. However, the JMB team, ever dedicated to ensuring seafarers’ health, safety and well-being, overcame the challenges so that the sailors were all well taken care of.
A few cases are highlighted.
On 14th May 2020, just a couple of hours before sailing, the master of the tanker MT Stolt Sequoia informed our Hazira branch head that the pumpman on board the vessel was complaining of severe pain in his lower abdomen. The JMB team at Hazira quickly swung into action and arranged for an initial inspection of the patient by the port doctor. The sailor was then transferred to a hospital at Surat for further investigation, where he was diagnosed with a severe infection of his appendix and had to undergo surgery. Meanwhile, the vessel’s sailing formalities were completed and she sailed for the next port, Mundra, with plans to come backand pick up the pumpman a few days later, as he could not be signed off due to the lockdown restrictions and because there were no international flights. On 24th May 2020, the vessel came back to Hazira to pick up the crewman after completing her discharging operation at Mundra. With no bulk berths available, at our request Adani port authority was supportive and kind enough to allow the vessel to berth at a container berth as a very special case and the sailor embarked on the vessel.
On 18th June 2020, the master of vessel Raahi requested our branch office to arrange for an Indian supernumerary to see a gynaecologist for urgent medical assistance. The terminal was not allowing outside medical attendance under its policy for COVID-19 safety. The branch team then approached the terminal marine head for permission and explained the medical emergencyand the seriousness of the situation. After regular follow-ups and efforts by our team, permission to disembark the supernumerary was obtained from various authorities, including PHO Kandla, customs, the Gujarat Maritime Board and the immigration authorities. The supernumerary disembarked in compliance with all of the terminal’s safety procedures. She received the required medical treatment and embarked back onto the vessel safely.
The Ratnagiri team undertook the challenging task of disembarking the mortal remains of a sailor at Jaigarh Port from the vessel MT GP Asphalt 1, which was on route to Humriyah, UAE. The death occurred on 12th July 2020, due to a fire on the vessel. The ship subsequently drifted and anchored off Devgarh. Our team received a call to assist with landing the mortal remains, a task that other agents had declined. Soon after receiving this call, our Ratnagiri office approached all authorities at JSW jetty and Angre Port for assistance and secured all necessary permissions. On 16th July 2020, the principals arranged for the tug lanpan 13 from Mumbai to visit the vessel and the mortal remains were brought to the JSW jetty. The whole operation had its tense moments but eventually, the needful was done.
A cadet on the vessel MT High Saturn at New Mangalore needed urgent medical assistance on 31 July 2020. The crew member could not be disembarked at the anchorage due to the onset of the monsoon and the rough sea conditions. Getting alongside the vessel was also not feasible. The Mangalore branch office asked the coast guard to get the cadet ashore using their own vessel. He was then taken to hospital after completing the sign-off formalities.
One of the crew of the vessel MT Gener8 Success was having difficulty in passing urine and had pain in his lower abdomen. Our branch team were contacted on 27th August 2020 with a request to land the sick sailor at Kochi anchorage. Our Kochi team immediately arranged for a tug to pick up the sick crew member and he was subsequently transported to hospital for medical treatment.
Besides the above, many COVID-19affected seafarers have been signed off after treatment or after quarantining. Some of the sailors that came to a port to sign on were found to be COVID-19 positive, and they too were treated and quarantined prior to being sent back home or signing on to their vessel.
The courage, commitment and sheer tenacity displayed by the JMB team on the ground have been exemplary and earned much appreciation from the principals.