India updates COVID-19 guidelines for seafarers amid nationwide lockdown

Mumbai Port at Carnac Bunder. Credit: Vikas Khot/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Local Indian seafarers currently sailing overseas on foreign- or Indian-flagged vessels have been urged not to sign off upon completion of their contracts, unless it is an “utmost emergency”.

The advisory, announced by the directorate general (DG) of shipping, India’s maritime administrator, comes as the country has begun an extended lockdown, currently set to end on 14 April 2020.

“In view of the rapid spread of COVID-19 [the coronavirus disease 2019], the process of sign off and repatriation of seafarers has been affected [the] world over due to travel restrictions imposed by various countries,” the directorate said. “In India, the operation of international flights has been prohibited. Restrictions on domestic travel have also been imposed as a precautionary measure in the country. Under these circumstances, it may not be possible for the seafarers, who have completed their contracts, to travel to India or to move to their destinations within India.”

The latest advisory follows the DG calling on Indian seafarers to avoid seeking shore leave in infected regions and to carefully consider the risks involved before going ashore in other regions.

In addition, the DG has also issued a decree suspending the operation of all maritime training institutes in the country until further notice.

“The COC (certificate of competency), COE (certificate of equivalency) and COP (certificate of proficiency) of seafarers, who are currently sailing on board Indian-flagged vessels and Indian seafarers sailing on foreign flag ships, whose COC/COE/COP are about to expire, stand extended for a maximum period of one month or until they sign off, whichever is earlier,” the DG said in a 23 March advisory.

The updated advisories complement a raft of instructions local maritime authorities have implemented over the past weeks: imposing a 14-day quarantine mandate on cargo ships arriving from any infected foreign port (where the voyage between the foreign port and an Indian port is less than 14 days); seeking a declaration on the health status of each crew member at least 72 hours prior to estimated vessel arrival; and placing a total ban on crew changes across all Indian ports.

“If the maritime declaration of health given by the master is found to be incorrect and not reflecting the factual conditions of health of persons on board the vessel, the master is liable to be prosecuted as per applicable laws. All agents of the vessel shall ensure that this information regarding possible prosecution for incorrect declaration is clearly informed to the vessel before its arrival at Indian ports,” the guidelines stated.

According to a Mumbai-based shipping agent, short-haul ship from the Gulf and Southeast Asian countries have no choice but to wait on the high seas before being allowed to berth. Voyage duration from these countries of origin typically involve between three and seven days. “We currently have a vessel from Iran waiting off the Mumbai Port,” the agent said.

Although the Indian government declared that lockdown-related actions would not apply to ports and freight transport – these sectors being considered as essential services – heightened public movement restrictions have severely impacted the country’s supply chain ecosystems. As a result, several Indian ports, notably those operated by Adani Group, have already declared force majeure, citing unprecedented constraints in normal operations.

Notwithstanding the invocation of force majeure, Adani Ports said it is making all efforts to continue port operations by co-ordinating with various government agencies.