87 Indian crew members from six ships left for Mumbai on a chartered plane after spending months at sea due to coronavirus restrictions, local media reported on Saturday.
The chartered plane flew 54 crew members from Mumbai to Singapore to replace the departing personnel belonging to the six ships for their voyage from the port of Singapore, according to The Straits Times
Chief engineer Awadhesh Prasad, 54, who was due to return home to Ranchi after the end of his four-month contract with the shipping company Executive Ship Management, was among the crew repatriated to India.
Mr. Prasad’s plans to return to Ranchi in February were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the border closures.
Mr. Prasad and the crew of the Crimson Monarch were unable to disembark and ended up continuing the bulk carrier’s journey to Canada, Brazil and Australia, among other countries, for approximately four more months, before his employer find a way to send him home.
The Crimson Monarch could not dock in any port since May 9, the date it left Brazil.
On Friday, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) announced that it has approved more than 4,000 signature cases and crew signatures for more than 300 companies and 500 ships.
Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan raised the issue of sailors stranded due to coronavirus restrictions around the world on his Facebook page Tuesday in response to a Financial Times article.
“Many crews (members) have worked for several months beyond their contracts, due to recent travel restrictions which prevent crews from disembarking to return home,” said the minister.
“This has led the international shipping industry to threaten to stop sailing unless a replacement crew can be recruited,” he said.
Khaw said the issue could potentially disrupt or obstruct the global supply chain, as commercial ships account for around 80% of world trade.
Getting a flight to India, which had previously banned air travel, was not easy, said the executive director of Executive Ship Management, SP Singh.
“International flights are prohibited in India … To charter a plane, we had to go through a long process to get the necessary clearances. The Singapore authorities have been very cooperative,” said Singh, quoted by the Straits Times.
The backup plan was to wait for governments to restore international flights, which Singh said was not a viable option.
“The seafarers struggled not to see their families,” said Singh, adding that the family members of the crew in India had asked the company when their loved ones would return home.
Prasad said he called his wife and daughter every two days for check-in.
“They understand the situation very well because everything is reported in the news. They kept asking me to be careful,” he said.
The ship was never going to run out of food and the crew could use high-speed Internet to call home, but it was the uncertainty of finding a way home before the pandemic ended that frustrated Prasad.
“It is very difficult not to know when I can go home … I worry about my family,” he said.
The new coronavirus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, has claimed more than 4.20,000 lives and 7.6 million confirmed cases worldwide to date. In Singapore, the COVID-19 toll stands at 25 with more than 40,000 positive cases.