The State and Central agencies find themselves at loggerheads over the manner in which the outer anchorage crew change was stopped at Vizhinjam seaport.
The debate started with the Bureau of Immigration (BoI) issuing an order to stop outer anchorage crew change on July 20. The order said controlled crew change services being rendered from the outer anchorage of Vizhinjam seaport was being withdrawn with immediate effect until further notice. The steamer agents who had already submitted documents for crew change would be considered, but no fresh cases would be entertained.
The BoI directive claimed it was issued in the light of an April 1 order of the Director General of Shipping (DGS) that stated that with the COVID conditions improving, all directives and SOPs issued by the DGS to deal with the pandemic onboard Indian vessels were withdrawn with immediate effect.
Interpreting this DGS order, the BoI withdrew the crew change a few days ago. However, the State government that took up the matter with the Centre argued that the DGS order had no mention of withdrawing crew change but BoI officials went beyond its limits and powers to effect the same.
A senior BoI officer said the outer anchorage crew change was introduced during the pandemic period considering the restrictions imposed by various countries on seafarers. This had also proved beneficial for the Vizhinjam port that could generate a revenue of over ₹10 crore by facilitating crew change in 732 vessels including the Indian and the foreign ones.
But with the DGS revoking all COVID-19-related directives and SOPs, the crew change schedule also naturally came into the ambit of its order. However, the port authorities were free to hold inner anchorage crew change at their will though this would not benefit Vizhinjam in a big way, as big vessels could not call at the port, the BoI officer said.
If the State government wanted to resume the outer anchorage crew change, it would have to first approach the DGS and bring clarity on the April order, the officer added.