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Testimonies of stranded seafarers: IMO

Raphael, tired and exhausted after a year onboard

Raphael* is a 33-year-old seafarer from the Philippines. He was supposed to be reunited with his wife and two children in April, but he could not be repatriated because of airport closures. When he gave this interview to IMO (July 2020), he had been at sea for 12 months, without any shore leave, and described the impacts of his extended time on board on his physical and mental health. He was finally repatriated in August 2020.

What is your situation?

“I am tired, exhausted and hopeless. I have been at sea for 12 months already. And we don’t know when I can see my kids and family. It’s very frustrating. I am trying to show a brave face every day.”

Why have you not been able to go home?

“I was supposed to be home in April, but all the airports are closed. It is impossible to fly home and hotel quarantines are expensive, so they chose not to relieve us. I have already faced four cancellations of going home. I don’t know what’s going on. We deliver the cargo and the goods but they close the borders for us.”

How is the ambiance on board?

“It’s tense. All of us want to go home. Some of us here have already been onboard for 13 months. Some will have been on the ship for 14 months soon. To all seafarers out there, let’s be strong. This pandemic will end, then we can go home.”

Do you fear impacts on your safety?

“Yes, because of the strain on our mental health. Our minds are in different worlds. It’s like walking on thin air. If they cannot send us home, the only thing to do is to reduce our workload. We are still doing 12-hours shifts.”

Vikram, unable to join his ship in the midst of the pandemic

At 33, Vikram has been working as a seafarer for 11 years and is now a Second Engineer. The Indian national is married and has two children, a boy aged 3 and a girl just a few months old. He has tried to join a ship to earn for his family, but was unable to do so. In this interview (July 2020), he explained that the pandemic has brought financial uncertainty. He was finally able to join a ship in the following months.

Tell me about your difficulties trying to join a ship.

“The company I have been employed with has been continuously putting on efforts for crew repatriation. They are always there. But they don't get proper support from the government. On 8 July, I travelled from my home to a different region to join a vessel. I was put in a hotel quarantine for 3 days, tested for Covid-19 and the result came back negative. On 10 July, I got a call saying that the joining had been cancelled and was asked to return home. It was explained that the off signers are foreign nationals who wouldn't be allowed to sign off, which forced the charterer to change the course of the vessel. At this point, there were no other options, so I had to return home and follow the State’s amended rules and regulations”

How are you feeling about the whole situation?

“I am a bit frustrated by the way a seafarer is being treated and sad at times when I look at it negatively... Even if a seafarer has lost his father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter - he will not make it to land now.”

What is your message to the world?

“Please recognise seafarers… Without working hands on the ships, a ship is never going to sail.”
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