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The plight of Indian Seafarers Deepens: Stranded, Exploited, Abandoned

The plight of Indian Seafarers Deepens: Stranded, Exploited, Abandoned

The plight of Indian Seafarers Deepens: Stranded, Exploited, Abandoned

Indian seafarers are facing a growing crisis, with a shocking number being abandoned on ships without pay or basic necessities. This report highlights the alarming situation and the factors contributing to it.

Indians Top the List of Abandoned Seafarers

For the second consecutive year, Indian seafarers are the most likely to be abandoned at sea. In the first half of 2024 alone, a staggering 411 Indian crew members have been left stranded on ships. This troubling trend comes amidst a rise in overall abandoned vessels documented by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). In 2023, a record 129 vessels were abandoned, with 401 of the affected seafarers being Indian. The current year is on track to surpass that grim record, with a total of 116 vessels and 1,672 seafarers abandoned so far.

A Case Study: Stranded on UAE Ships

The ITF has brought to light the plight of 16 Indian seafarers abandoned on two vessels operated by the same UAE-based company, AIM Global Shipping & Fuel Supply. These crew members have been stuck on the ships for months, enduring harsh conditions. They haven’t received their wages, face sweltering heat with no air conditioning, and have dwindling provisions. Six of these seafarers are on the “Seashine 7,” anchored at Sharjah, owed over $40,000 in unpaid wages. The other ten are on the “Sunshine 7,” a Tanzania-flagged vessel deregistered in 2022. Their situation is even worse, with no air conditioning or refrigeration, and the generator only running for a meager hour per day. The ITF is currently in talks with the vessel owner to resolve this situation.

Flags of Convenience: A Loophole for Exploitation

A significant detail in these cases is the use of “flags of convenience” (FOC) by the ships. 75% of the abandoned vessels documented this year fall under this category. FOCs allow ships to register under a different country’s flag than the owner’s. This allows shipowners to potentially avoid stricter labor and tax regulations in their home countries. Some may even use FOCs to bypass sanctions. The ITF has recently added Gabon and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to its list of FOC registries. Notably, Eswatini is a landlocked country not even a member of the international maritime organization, raising questions about its ability to properly regulate vessels flying its flag. ITF president Paddy Crumlin criticizes the FOC system, stating that it creates an environment with “no accountability and no regulation,” leading to exploitation, abandonment, and even deaths among seafarers. FOC countries, according to Crumlin, are more interested in revenue than enforcing regulations.

Exploitative Practices by Crewing Agents

The report also highlights the role of Indian crewing agents in this crisis. ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale blames some Indian crewing agents for being “among the worst” when it comes to placing seafarers in exploitative situations. These agents might send seafarers to jobs without proper information or awareness of the conditions they might face on board.

Indian Seafarers: Vulnerable and Unaware

The report sheds light on the vulnerability of some Indian seafarers. National Union of Seafarers of India vice-president Louis Gomes points out that some Indian seafarers “often have no awareness” and might not even know details about the specific ship they’ll be working on. Some might even pay agents just to get on board a ship and gain experience for their certificates, making them more susceptible to exploitation.

A Call to Action

This report paints a grim picture of the situation faced by many Indian seafarers. It highlights the need for stricter regulations on FOCs, improved practices by crewing agencies, and increased awareness among seafarers about their rights and working conditions. Concerted efforts are needed from various stakeholders – governments, international organizations, shipowners, and crewing agencies – to ensure the safety and well-being of seafarers across the globe.

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