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Major ports lack in major response for seafarers welfare centre

India’s mega star Amitabh Bhachan in his now famed tourism advertisement on Gujarat says that if you have not seen Kutch,you have not seen anything. 

A beautiful spot on a dry cargo jetty of India’s number one major port of Kandla in the same desert district, Kutch, in Gujarat deserves the same description: If you are a man from the maritime world and have not seen Kandla’s seafarers home, you too have not seen a home away from home for the lone, forelorn seaman always living fatigue and depressed life at sea. 

Kandla is in the remote corner of the country having emerged in the fifties as post Independent India’s first modern major port on account of the country’s partition. And yet, it is the only port in India boasting all-facility centre for visiting seamen from all over the world. 

Though there are more than 425 such centers in the world, the Kandla centre, started only five years ago,to be specific in 2012,finds itself among  world toppers in provision of quality multiple services to the seafarers and won six times ISWAN awards for being among world’s six best. 

 ‘’The true yardstick is however its popularity among its users-here seafarers. In 2012 we had very few visiting seafarers, now the figure has crossed the figure of 30000.In services, you name it and we provide it our strangers sea men who may be from our own ports or from world ports. We work with the moto;strangers are just friends, you have not met in serving them to best of our ability. I must say this would not have been possible from the physical support we get from our port authorities and port users.’ Joseph Chacko told this paper in an exclusive talk. 

And Chacko wants  Kandla-like haven for seafarers at all ports in India. For this a separate body called Sailors Welfare Association has been set up.The Association was incorporate in August 2016 as a non -profit making company.Chacko who is its managing director says that the association has started functioning  at eight ports of India where ship welfare visitors cum port chaplain to visit ships have been appointed. 

What is now needed is a small piece of land inside the ports at a token price as has been done in the case of Kandla.The land allotted for the drop-in-centres would be used for welfare activities for seafarers. The idea is to provide free internet, small shopping facilities with life’s all basic necessities, indoor games. 

Chacko says that a formal request letter was sent to union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari  who approving the idea asked all the chairmen of the major ports by the shipping ministry’s letter of January 25 this year. 

But this paper understands, the response is not as it should be like Kandla.Sources said that only one or two ports have responded and no movement is seen at other ports.

Not liking this attitude of other major ports,Manohar Bellani,senior labour trustee and vice president of Kandla Seafarers’welfare Association said that the mental health of seafarers is today very serious issue as loneliness and monotonous sea life makes life difficult and such welfare centres come handy to be their another home away from home. The welfare centre becomes a companion when the seafarer leaves his vessel and visits the centre where Skype or internet facilities help them to talk to their family members to remove their loneliness which is otherwise not possible as in the ship it is limited to email or text.He said the other major ports should act immediately and provide space to the newly set up organizations.He said that their Kandla model and experience could easily be copied.

 

 D V Maheshwari
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