Give sailors Covid vax on priority: Seafarers to PM

Mumbai: The biggest organisation of Indian merchant navy sailors has demanded that all seafarers be given the much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine on ‘top priority’ as they kept the country’s economic engines running during the 10-month pandemic lockdown.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) here has said that during the pandemic lockdown, the lands of the world were shut and even the global skies were inactive as all non-essential flights had been grounded.

“In those tough times, only the merchant navy ships in the world were alive, active and worked non-stop all over, rendering a yeoman service to humanity by transporting bulk loads of all essentials from foodgrains to fuel,” NUSI General Secretary Abdulgani Y. Serang told IANS.

He pointed out that the sheer dedication and passion of the Indian merchant navy seafarers ensured that the economic lifeline of the nation through the sea routes always remained open and international maritime trade did not suffer in any manner despite the health crisis gripping the world.

“We have around 2.40 lakh seafarers currently serving on all the seas and oceans worldwide. Of these around one-third are on Indian-flagged vessels and the rest on foreign-flagged vessels, but they performed with equal zeal during the time of the nation’s need,” said NUSI spokesperson Sunil Nair.

Serang said that under the Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968, the maritime services are included as an essential service by the government, given its critical role in the country’s economy.

“In view of the critical role we play, the NUSI wants all sea-farers to be included in the government’s ‘priority list’ for administering the Covid-19 vaccine. With that, we are even prepared to bear the full cost of the vaccine for all NUSI members as a service to the nation,” Serang added.

Nair said that the government has already acknowledged the importance of the seafarers with the National Maritime Board (NMB) signing an agreement on December 7 giving a wage revision, in pandemic times.

“The NMB agreement covers around 50,000 Ratings (juniors) and Petty Officers serving on Indian flag foreign-going, home trade, offshore vessels, and for the first time even Harbour Tugs. Nobody though that an upward revision was possible in the Covid-19 pandemic times, but we did it,” Nair declared.

The major wage agreement, valid for four years from January 2021-December 2023, gives hefty pay hikes of between 20-40 per cent for different categories of seafarers besides 15 per cent for Harbour Tugs operators, besides certain special allowances and arrears wherever applicable, he said.

On his part, Serang urged the government to include the seafarers as ‘Top Priority’ along with medical and other personnel for the disbursal of the Covid-19 vaccines to boost their moral and continue serving the country with renewed vigour.

(IANS)

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