With dozens of seafarers stranded for months due to air flight suspension following the COVID-19 spread, on 10 June 2020, commercial air carrier US-Bangla Airlines operated a special flight to ferry 45 Indian seafarers back home.
The seafarers were stuck in Chittagong as the government of Bangladesh, on 24 May, allowed them to enter the metropolis with a visa on arrival (VOA) until the next available flight.
Kamrul Islam, general manager of public relations, told SAS the airline has been operating special flights since the COVID-19 outbreak. “If we receive any further requests from seafarers, more special flights will be operated for them,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, the government enforced a shutdown from 26 March, which will last until 30 June. On 21 March, Bangladesh started gradually suspending international air flights and VOA facility to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, which has already claimed 1,049 lives and infected 78,052 in the country.
Shipping sector officials said a good number of seafarers are staying in hotels and motels in Chittagong after signing off from their vessels.
As the number of seafarers willing to sign off from vessels increased – after remaining on ships for months due to travel restrictions – the government was forced to revise a previous order on 24 May, thus allowing them to enter the country despite COVID-19 risks.
Bangladeshi crews in Somalia
In the meantime, five Bangladeshi crew members have remained stuck on a chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia for months. They have called for the Bangladesh government to evacuate them urgently, because they are suffering from mental distress and face the risk of being exposed to chemicals after being on the ship for nine months.
The crew members boarded the ship on 15 September, from the Port of Chennai in India, for a 5–8-month contract However, the COVID-19 pandemic kept them afloat for nine months.
A crew member, Ali Akbar, told a local news site that they were stuck on the vessel for the entire period. “Though we have shore leave pass, none of the countries we reached during the period allowed us to enter to dry land, it’s like we are living in jail,” he said.
Chinese crew dies
A Chinese crew member died of a heart attack on 10 June at the Port of Mongla while at lunch onboard Epic St Kitts, a Singapore-registered liquid petroleum gas (LPG) carrier.
Fan Hongzhi was working as chief engineer on the vessel, which was carrying raw materials from the gas plant of local company Energypac Power Generation Ltd.
A Mongla port official said the crew member was not infected with COVID-19, and he was working on board the LPG carrier for the past seven months.
The company, Epic Gas, released a statement confirming the passing of the crew member onboard one of its vessels, and expressed its condolences for the family of the seafarer.