Indian ship and crew management companies use charter flights to move sailors to and from overseas ports. The move is likely to bring business to struggling private airlines, such as SpiceJet, which have been hit by two-month restrictions on air travel to fight the coronavirus.
While international flights have yet to resume operations to India, shipowners, managers and crew companies have come under pressure to find alternatives to resume the crew change – interrupted around the world since February due to pandemic – as June 15 deadline set by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) are looming on the horizon.
The ITF and IMEC have given governments until June 15 to repatriate crews working beyond the contract term, following guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
On May 30, two SpiceJet charter flights – one from Mumbai to Colombo operated by VR Maritime and the other from Chennai to Colombo operated by SeaTeam Management (India) Pvt Ltd – will carry Indian sailors to join ships in South Korea. and Japan, two countries which have allowed crew changes despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Both charter flights have received government approvals.
SeaTeam is the Indian ship management unit of Frontline Ltd, the world’s largest tanker shipping company, based in Hamilton, Bermuda and controlled by shipping magnate John Fredriksen.
Sailors on the charter flight operated by SeaTeam Management head to South Korea to board ships.
In addition to its own crew, SeaTeam will also transport sailors from a few other companies to Colombo, from where they will travel to South Korea to join the shipyard’s delivery vessels.
Currently, owners and managers mainly move sailors to overseas ports for shipyard deliveries and not for crew changes. This is done to avoid losing ships or jobs to other nationalities.
Crew change means that a sailor boards a ship while another sailor disembarks and returns to their home country.
In the case of delivery to the shipyard, the vessel is in the shipyard and must be taken back by the owner. For this, the sailors are sent to the yard and they do the sea trials and take charge of the ship.
“We cannot send a crew to China, otherwise we would have supported more ships for the crew. Seafarers do not have a visa to go to China because the embassy is closed,” he said. said Captain Sanjay Prashar, Managing Director of VR Maritime, a ship management company.
Other charter flights of this type are in sight.
The transport of sailors on special charter flights will give some breathing space to the beleaguered airlines, some of which resumed partial operations on Monday, each of these charter flights costing up to Rs50 lakhs to the entity which charters the plane on a round trip from Mumbai to Colombo.
But, there are obstacles to making this plan a sustainable plan.
“You have to have flight schedules by which sailors can reach a location, do Covid tests, stay in a quarantine atmosphere and have the connecting flight where it wants to go. In fact, it is a very bad plan, but in desperation, it is the only plan, ”said Prashar.
On return, the flight must return empty. “If you want to fill the return flight with sailors, then you have to hand over the crew manifesto to the General Directorate of the Merchant Navy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If they approve, only you are allowed to bring back sailors. So, the approval for the return flight comes from five authorities, but for the return flight, it requires the approval of an authority, ”said Prashar.
“If the flight doesn’t take off from India, we lose one hundred percent of the money,” he added.
“In practice, the plan is at the mercy of the government. It does not matter which airline you are linked with for the transport of sailors. But it doesn’t matter who gets government approval, ”added Prashar.