Hundreds of Indian crew aboard cruise ships docked on the UK coast have appealed for repatriation to India amid the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
UK port authorities boarded the Astoria cruise ship at Tilbury port in Essex near London along with five others earlier this week amid concerns for the welfare of crew members.
The All India Seafarer and General Workers Union claims that around 1,500 crew members from India have been stranded at UK ports across these ships.
“This is regarding 164 crew members stranded Indian citizens on the vessel MV Astoria, which is (in) Tilbury Port in United Kingdom,” notes a letter from the union addressed to the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in reference to one of the vessels.
“In this pandemic coronavirus outbreak, our Indian citizens stuck in foreign waters from past 90 days, and need help. The schedule flight was cancelled due to lack of documentation. Many of them start hunger strike on-board vessel,” notes the letter dated June 16.
The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has since detained that particular cruise ship at the port of Tilbury pending an inspection. After boarding, the MCA issued detentions to the Astoria and four other vessels in the operator's fleet – the Astor, Colombus, Vasco da Gama and Marco Polo.
“The detention is a preventative measure in line with UK regulations, in order that a full inspection of the ship related to the maritime labour convention can be carried out before its intended departure. It cannot leave the port until the inspection is completed,” the MCA said in a statement.
“Five other ships in the same [ship management] company – Global Cruise Lines Ltd – four others based at Tilbury and one at Bristol, are also being inspected. Acting as the port state control authority for the UK, the MCA has taken this action following a number of serious concerns which were raised about the welfare of the crew,” the statement said.
According to reports, MCA surveyors found a number of expired and invalid Seafarers Employment Agreements, late payment of wages and seafarers who had been on board for over 12 months.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued a statement this week to say that the UK government would look into the welfare of seafarers.
“The welfare of seafarers is of the utmost importance and we take any reports of safety concerns around crew incredibly seriously," he said.
“We will not hesitate to continue to use every power within our control to safeguard the health and happiness of every seafarer currently working in the UK," he said.
The ships have been stranded since the start of the coronavirus outbreak and also involved crew from Europe, Indonesia and Myanmar, some of whom have been repatriated or are in the process of being repatriated to their countries.