Indian Government approves new welfare measures for seafarers
Indian Government move to ensure that seafarers held in captivity of pirates continue to receive wages until they return home.
The Union Cabinet of the Government of India, led by Prime Minister Modi, has approved the introduction of the revamped Merchant Shipping Bill in Parliament. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 has been amended various times on previous occasions between 1966 and 2014. The provisions of the Act have been shortened and simplified in order to reduce regulation, increase transparency and promote effective delivery of services.
One of the significant reforms that will follow enactment of the Bill includes the introduction of welfare measures for seafarers. More than 400 Indian seafarers have been held hostage in Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea in the past, some of those held by Somali pirates for more than four years. Among these, a small minority of seafarers have not been paid their wages by their owners and manning agents. There has been a growing consensus among the shipping fraternity to ensure that seafarers receive their wages for the full time that they are held in captivity. The Government of India supports the introduction of the provision of wages from capture until release.
Chirag Bahri, ISWAN / MPHRP Regional Director for South Asia, welcomed the provisions of the revised Bill, thanked the Government and the Director General of Shipping, whose guidance and pro-active approach has greatly assisted seafarers. “As a former hostage, and having assisted many other hostages and families, I can say that the payment of wages and compensation have been the biggest concern for seafarers who are taken hostage. The poor state of the families when not paid by the owners has tremendously impacted on living conditions at home, with some of them even not able to send their children to school or even to pay their electricity bills. This distress adds greatly to their problems at a very difficult time, and delays the recovery of hostages who return to a family in desperate poverty.”
Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, said: “The unpaid seafarers, on return home from captivity, instead of relaxing and taking time to readjust to home life, have to spend their time making emotional appeals for help and running from pillar to post to secure their wages. Unfortunately, this is the case in some of the countries where we have assisted hostages and their families.”
The revamped Bill also strengthens regulation on Recruitment and Placement Services, or manning agents. Agencies recruiting seafarers will have to deposit a bank guarantee of up to four months salary with the Director General of Shipping to cover every seafarer they hire. The authority makes use of these funds in case of non-payment by the agency.