A first-hand account of how a prosperous sailor became a helpless father and husband

The interviewee works as a Cruise Vacation Manager with a leading International Cruise Line, based out of Miami, Florida.

Q1) Sign-on & sign-off processes were affected rather than halted for quite some time due to COVID. What has been the financial impact on those who were unable to join or sign off from the vessels? How did it affect the sailor’s personal life? 

As it has rightly been said – a fish cannot climb a tree. The same is the case with the sailors. They know how to sail and only sail. The workings of the jobs here on land are like a maze to their training and expertise. Here most of it is constant while there, everything keeps changing including the time zones. Thus, their adaptability to the jobs ashore is very difficult. It is mentally and emotionally taxing, and worst of all – there is a downside even to the financial side of it.  

The bigger issue was that the pandemic situation had led to job cuts. Hiring was not even an option for many organisations, moreover, they had to lay off their employees. Many seafarers including myself chose to do something of our own like start-ups or small businesses or a job for very little pay. 

When organizations like mine were buckling up for a start and rehiring crew in May 2021, the second wave of COVID surged to an all-time high in India. So, the company stopped rehiring from India. Well, they figured out options to bring the crew on board at a later date. Even after over one-and-a-half years since the first wave hit, many are still at home, waiting for their turn to be back on board. 

Q2) What support services have been made available?

Support services from the organisation: I take pride in the organisation I work for, a leading international cruise line. They were always supportive in many ways. From the repatriation to bring the crew back on board, they left no stone unturned to make it happen. The shoreside team worked tirelessly with authorities, diplomats, and support organizations day and night. 

They did set up a system in place for assistance, counselling, and financial aid like a relief fund for employees. However, nothing would compensate for the pain of not having a job for almost close to two years. 

Q3) What about getting support from the Maritime Organization in India, Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India?

Initially, I barely heard of any support from DG Shipping. Many seafarers did not have access to or any knowledge of the support. The only support I availed was the smooth repatriation of the crew which arrived in Mumbai and they made it home. However, DG shipping was always there. It was a joint effort of our management representative staff in India and DG Shipping that the sailors could reach Mumbai and return to their homes.

Q4) How has the seafarer’s local government provided support? Did the IMO or ITF offer assistance?  

I feel sad to admit but there has not been any support. The local government did not take cognizance of the fact that the maritime industry people were also among those who suffered. My local government does not have any mechanism in place to know that I am a seafarer. 

Q5) How difficult has it been to try and find work on the land – what is the ultimate long-term financial impact on the family?

If asked to sum it up in a line, I would say I wasn’t prepared for this level of desperation.  Funds were depleting, sign-on was nowhere in sight, the company was helpless because of regulations and restrictions, and so was I. There were pending bills my children’s school fees, grocery bills, power bills, medical expenses, and the bills to keep the everyday life kept mounting while the money in the bank accounts kept decreasing until finally exhausted. I tried to look for jobs on land but in vain. Marine expertise was a mismatch wherever I went. I had to borrow money and cut on some of the vital necessities let alone luxuries.

COVID 19 devastated us but also taught us many things. As the global health emergency enveloped us,  we learned our lesson of hope – “There is always a tomorrow.”