“Captain Lifeboat” who has led many a rescue mission for stranded seamen

A nearly five-month long wait for 58 fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Kerala to return to India will end on Tuesday thanks to the tireless efforts of one person who has over the years been variously described as ‘Captain Lifeboat” or the “Messiah of Seafarers”, Captain Sanjay Prashar.

Forty fishermen from Tamil Nadu and 18 from Kerala stranded in Asaluyeh, 1,400 km from Tehran, will return to India on Tuesday on a Mahan Air flight from Tehran to New Delhi. Captain Prashar has bought tickets worth approximately ₹17 lakh for all of them and has also offered to arrange for their travel from the national capital to their home States. And now, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan have offered to chip in too.

“Congratulations @PrasharSdp on your noble efforts. I have been engaged with Foreign Minister @DrSJaishankar and our Embassy @India_in_Iran throughout the #lockdown to expedite their repatriation. For this last group of Indian fishermen left behind, thanks for covering their tickets,” tweeted Mr. Tharoor on Monday.

Left behind in Iran

Days before Captain Prashar intervened, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswami wrote to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to arrange for repatriation of the fishermen. They were left behind in Iran after INS Jalashwa on July 1 brought back nearly 720 fishermen to Thoothukudi but couldn’t accommodate a few. As discussions over who would pay for their flight tickets hit a stalemate, the fishermen’s union in Chennai dialled Captain Sanjay Prashar for help.

‘When the Indian naval ship arrived, many politicians welcomed the fishermen. But no one offered to help those who were left behind. Our Chief Minister wrote a letter to the MEA and the PMO but did little else. But Captain Prashar made arrangements by contacting the embassy in Tehran and talking to the Ministry of External Affairs in India and the airline in three days flat,” general secretary, Maritime People’s Welfare Association L. Praveen Kumar told The Hindu.

Working in Iran for the past 1.5 to 2 years, the fishermen found themselves jobless as fishing came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic. Without any money to make their ends meet, they have been struggling to return to their villages to be with their families.

Captain Prashar is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and Managing Director and Founder of VR Maritime which provides crew to shipping companies. But he is better known in shipping circles for helping sailors and fishermen who often find themselves stranded in international waters or foreign land, either serving jail terms for violating maritime laws or inadvertently smuggling cargo while vessel owners and manning agent wash their hands off them.

Since India shut its land borders, ports and skies in March to curb international travel and the spread of COVID-19, Captain Prashar has spent at least a few crores in ensuring the safe return of over 700 seafarers from Doha and Colombo. He raised the issue of facilitating crew change for mariners onboard ships who had far exceeded their duty time because of pandemic restrictions and pursued the Ministry of Shipping, Directorate General of Shipping, and other government agencies for repatriation of over 20,000 seamen stranded around the world including Bahamas, the U.S., Italy and Australia. He also persisted with the government to prepare the standard operating procedures for the repatriation of seamen.

Earns place on National Shipping Board

He has been active for the past several years and remembers rescuing at least 2,000 mariners in the past four years alone. In 2016, he was part of the MEA’s four-member team to bring back nine dead sailors from Bandar Abbas in Iran and, in 2017 was tasked by the then Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with bringing back seven seafarers from Yemen at the peak of the civil war there. His dedication has also found him a place on the National Shipping Board set up by the Ministry of Shipping.

“Under Sushma Swaraj ji, it was the golden era for the Foreign Ministry and embassies everywhere were very active in repatriation of stranded Indians. It is a sorry state of affairs for seafarers who are often victims of human rights violation. Hopefully, under the new draft Merchant Shipping Bill due to be tabled in Parliament soon some of these concerns will be addressed as it provides for stringent penalties against illegal agencies,” Captain Prashar told The Hindu.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 1:57:17 PM |

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