Seafarers special flights gain traction for crew change in foreign ports

Ship managers and manning companies operating from India are running chartered flights to Doha and Colombo every alternate day as crew change at foreign ports gain traction with global deadline being a June 16, on staff swap drawing near.

VR Maritime Services has arranged 22 chartered flights of SpiceJet for seafarers which will make 44 trips to Colombo/Doha and back with each flight carrying at least 160 crew on the 180-seater planes, said the Mumbai-based company’s Managing Director Captain Sanjay Prashar.

On Tuesday, a seafarers’ special flight took off from Mumbai to Doha with 154 crew from 15 companies. From Doha, the crew will proceed to different destinations to join ships.

Among the group were eight seafarers who travelled all the way from Telangana/Andhra Pradesh to Mumbai, did Covid-19 tests which were negative and stayed in safe homes before reaching the airport to catch the plane.

“The seafarers were eager to go back to ships and relieve crew who have already done more than their contract tenures,” Prashar said.

Captain Girish Phadnis, CEO of Kae Maritime, who joined hands with V R Maritime to move seafarers, said: ” Every job retained counts.”

Many countries have opened-up for crew change. On Tuesday, Hong Kong announced that it was allowing crew change for all nationalities.

Qatar Airways has become the preferred airline for Indian seafarers transiting through Doha to other destinations.

Sri Lanka has also emerged as a “friendly country” for seafarers as it allows all nationalities to join and disembark ships. It has also allowed Colombo to be used as transit airport. Sri Lanka allows five days stay in safe home for all seafarers entering Colombo and seven days to those who are departing Colombo to their home countries.

So far, 26 shipping companies have utilised charter flights to send and bring back seafarers.

It takes five working days to get permission for charter flight inwards as the State government is also involved. Maharashtra seems to be benefiting from charter flights as 33 per cent seafarers booking seats are from the State.

Captain Umesh Shetty, joint managing director of V R Maritime Services, said that the fare for Bombay to Doha flight is $650 per seafarer and his firm arranged 22 flights for 71 companies to “ensure no job is lost for Indian seafarers.”

V R Maritime will run two seafarers’ special flights on Wednesday carrying 300 crew.

Through the charter flights that flew so far, Hong Kong-based ship manager Anglo Eastern – the largest employer of Indian seafarers – has sent more than 100 crew.

“We now have chartered flights every alternate day at nearly the normal cost for Indian seafarers. Thus, bulk crew joining and sign off is the new name of the game,” added Prashar.

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