By Aakanksha Nigam
Indian seafarers on coastal ships heaved a sigh of relief as the Chennai Port agreed to grant shore leave to them, provided they adhere to basic protocols of undergoing dual vaccination and wearing masks.
Indian sailors working on coastal ships, whether they are flagged by an Indian or foreign country, were prohibited from entering Indian ports since the port health authorities were unsure whether to permit their access due to COVID-19 rules.
When the Bulk Carrier MV Maithili arrived at the Chennai Port, seafarers onboard said they were denied shore leave to visit their relatives. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in Chennai has received a letter of representation from the sailors.
The shore leave was granted after the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) requested a report on the status of shore leave grants to sailors in each port’s authority.
The time a seafarer is permitted to take a leave from the ship when it is docked in a port is known as shore leave.
Depending on how long the ship is expected to be in port, the length of the leave can range from a few hours to a few days.
Like those in any other line of employment, those who work on ships also need time to unwind and rest.
The use of shore leaves, a custom that is vanishing with time, has been justified for a number of reasons.
- The shore leave provides much-needed relief for sailors who have been cooped up on the same ships for months.
- A sailor has the opportunity to spend a small period of time exploring the port city while on shore leave.
- The sailors who operate in harsh conditions aboard will benefit greatly from the change in the physical environment that comes with it.
- The shore leaves improve the mental health of sailors.
A port health official said that shore leave was granted to sailors provided they adhere to safety protocols. “The master and the ship owners have been asked to monitor those sailors, who have gone on shore leave for two weeks, to ensure they don’t catch any infection,” he said.
A sailors’ helpline coordinator asserted that the Cruise ship Empress was operating between Chennai and Visakhapatnam Ports moving thousands of passengers, without any restrictions related to COVID. The travelers were free to enter and leave the port. Similarly, airline pilots and cabin crew were allowed to enter and leave the airport freely. Only seafarers were being cornered.
The decision was taken after port authorities held a meeting and the plight of the sailors was highlighted. Seafarers of foreign vessels, however, would not be granted shore leave.