Many a family has lost its moorings as the men are away for far too long, they say
They are accustomed to their husbands being out on the sea for months at a stretch but even their patience is running out as the men have been in their ships for far too long now, unable to find their way back home due to the worldwide lockdown forced by COVID-19. As a result, the wives of merchant navy officers have started a campaign on social media for the return of the sailors.
“A captain or chief engineer typically has a contract of only four to six months because of the high-pressure nature of their jobs that requires constant decision-making. These people have been at their jobs in spite of the outbreak of COVID-19, doing every duty, inspection and port call as if business as usual. But they have been out far too long now. I haven’t seen my husband in eight months,” Kolkata-based Ishani Priyadarshini, who is among those leading the campaign, told The Hindu.
Ms. Priyadarshini last saw her husband in September 2019; he should have returned by March but then the novel coronavirus began to spread, leading to lockdowns worldwide. Complying with the lockdown in India, she herself has remained confined to her Tollygunge home for two months now, with only her dog for company. On Monday, she was busy putting back in place some of her trees that had been hit by Cyclone Amphan.
“There are about 1.5 lakh seafarers on duty at the moment; of them about 35,000 are officers. One sailor’s father died mid-April; the family has preserved the ashes so that the son can immerse them once he returns. Another officer’s wife is stuck at home with a two-month-old baby. Almost every family has a story,” Ms. Priyadarshini said.
Her husband, at the moment, is on Italian waters, having just sailed there from Egypt. “I am told that at each port, even if it is China or Italy, which are known red zones, local authorities step aboard for inspection. What if someone passes on the virus to the sailors? Where will they be evacuated to?” she asked.
Ms. Priyadarshini began the campaign — along with Loveneet Kohli, another officer’s wife based in Gurgaon — on social media after they failed to get the desired response from the shipping companies and also the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We asked the PMO for only two things. One, it should coordinate with the Directorate General of Shipping and mandatorily summon all ships which have sailors working for six months to safe ports that have an understanding with the Government of India. Two, let, the aircraft/ship that goes to evacuate our men carry their relievers. The PMO disposed of the letter saying guidelines had already been given,” Ms. Priyadarshini said.
“The shipping business has not been affected but the people have been. Senior officers can see their juniors going to pieces in front of them, and worry how long they will be able to hold themselves. Since international flights have not started, companies need to charter flights to bring back their sailors,” she said.