Coronavirus | Indian seafarers stranded in Iran due to global shutdown

Trainee seamen are stuck on boats without money.

Among the over 250 Indians stranded in coronavirus-hit Iran are fishermen and seafarers. Many of these seafarers are trainee ratings, who have been marooned in boats abandoned by the owners in ports such as Khorramshahr, Bandar Mahshahr and Bushehr. The Iranian crew in the boats have left for their homes.

The abandoned vessels are practically dead ships with no power or fuel. The trainees who can’t leave the port are making do with whatever supplies they can muster and keeping their spirits alive. Many say they have received no medical attention though none of them has shown any visible symptoms of COVID-19.

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For many of these trainees, the 12-months they serve on the small Iranian ships — practically boats that ferry loose cargo from Dubai and back — will enable them to become certified seamen in India. Many have foregone salaries and some have put up money to agents in India to serve as trainees and become full-fledged seafarers so they can make a career in the merchant navy.

Some of them have completed 12 months but have been unable to leave.

Their owners have told them to stay in abandoned boats until the situation improves.

Snehit Barathe from Pune completed his 12-month training on March 5 on the ship Yekta that was transporting tyres, car parts and so on between Dubai and Abadan in Iran. But his owner has told him to stay on in an abandoned boat in Khorramshahr. “We are six here on this ship. There is gas in the boat that we are using to cook. Until a week back the market was functioning but everything is under lockdown now,” he says.

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Many have been stranded longer. Hemchandra Pokhariyal from Nainital in Uttarakhand finished his training in January 15. He continued to serve in a ship until his salary was settled. “I had a ticket for March 4 to come back to India but the lockdown started here. Since then I have been living in an abandoned boat,” he says.

“We are managing with qaboos (Iranian bread) and rice,” says another stranded trainee Ajay Pawar.

Anurag Chand says some 50 Indian seafarers have taken shelter in the abandoned boats at the Khorramshahr port. “We help each other out with food,” he adds.

Not accounted

The exact number of such stranded seafarers is not known. A list created by Sanjay Parashar, Chairman of the International Maritime Federation, has the details of some 70 seafarers but he estimates hundreds of such Indian seafarers are in trouble in Iran.

The Indian Embassy in Tehran has so far counted some 150 stranded Indian seafarers. “We have advised them to not sign off and stay with their owners/vessels. We have been able to help in sending back eight who signed off. We do not have information of them being abandoned by owners,” says an official at the Embassy. He cites strict lockdown rules that include heavy fines of up to 5,000,000 rials as constricting any effort to reach out to them.

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Desperate fishermen

Recently, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had taken up the issue of stranded fishermen with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The fishermen have been confined to small spaces and are living under poor conditions without proper food or medical care,” says Mario Johnson, advocate at the Madras High Court and co-ordinator of Tamil Fishermen Confederation.

The Embassy official said despite large distances and poor connectivity, they have provided essential food items at great cost to all the 1,029 Indian fishermen in Bushehr and Hormozgan provinces within a span of 24 hours on March 20-21, 2020.

“These include 744 fishermen from Tamil Nadu, 215 from Gujarat and 70 from Kerala. The places inhabited by the fishermen are either islands or ports and spread over a geographical area of around 300 km. The supplies were arranged despite considerable logistical challenges such as inter-province lockdown and extended holidays due to Nowruz (Persian New Year), “ the official says.

“We have been counselling the fishermen of the lockdown in India and cooperation of all people also and hence [the need] for them to stay put and take adequate precautions, follow all health protocols and cooperate with their owners by resuming work,” he adds.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 8:28:21 AM |

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