International Seafarers Can Now Sign Off at Indian Ports
International seafarers on cargo vessels can now sign off at Indian ports, according to an official announcement from the Directorate-General of Shipping (DGS). The development will have far-reaching consequences for crew changes in India. The ruling, though, is not applicable to cruise vessels.
Since late April, foreign seafarers had not been allowed to sign off at Indian ports. However, they will be permitted to return home on the special `Vande Bharat’ (which translates as ‘Salute to India’) flights operated by the country’s national carrier Air India, along with non-scheduled commercial flights or charter flights.
On April 21, the Indian authorities allowed the country’s own seafarers to sign off at Indian ports using standard operating procedures (SOP). Since then, some 18,500 Indian seafarers have signed-off at Indian ports and another 8,000 have joined seagoing ships.
“This move will not only help India in meeting its international obligation to facilitate movement of ship crew, but would also create job opportunities for Indian seafarers waiting to join a vessel,” said Satinder Pal Singh, a senior bureaucrat in the Shipping Ministry.
The government will also allow immigration officers to grant a temporary landing permit (TLP) for up to one month to foreign seafarers who have expired Indian visas, so long as they have a valid passport and seaman's identity document (CDC).
The sign-off of foreign seafarers at Indian ports and their repatriation to their home countries will be subject to the standard operating procedures (SOP) framed by the DGS.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has prescribed SOPs for a crew member to join a vessel or disembark from it and travel to or from their country of residence. The IMO Secretary General had urged member states to implement the SOPs to facilitate crew transfer from their ports and airports.
The DGS decision was taken due to widespread demand from international maritime organizations, international trade unions, the maritime community and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) to facilitate movement of seafarers of all nationalities, except those on the restricted list.