In 2017, Gulf News ran a series of stories on the plight of Indian sailors stranded in UAE waters after being neglected by their ship owners and agents.
Subith K. Sukumaran, a sailor aboard the MV Sharjah Moon, had become the face of the ordeal scores of seafarers had been going through due to bad working conditions.
When we first published his story on May 30, the 24-year-old from Kerala had not seen his ageing parents and younger brother for almost three years.
He had joined the ship on a one-year contract and worked for 24 months.
After that only had he requested for a sign-off. He had tried to go home since then. But the company was not sending him, Sukumaran had told Gulf News over phone.
The vessel with six Indian and one Sri Lankan crew members had been at anchorage in UAE waters since July 2016. The sailors had been stranded with no salary and disrupted supplies of food, water and fuel.
Fed up with the false promises of the company, Alco Shipping, the crew docked the vessel at the Hamriyah Port in Sharjah without permission on May 9 and sought the help of the Indian Consulate in Dubai through social worker Girish Pant.
In the peak of the summer, several other Indian seafarers made SOS calls to the mission and Pant.
By the end of June, about 100 Indian sailors aboard 22 ships had sought the help of the consulate.
Subsequent to a Gulf News report revealing the big number of stranded Indian sailors, Sushma Swaraj, the Indian Minister of External Affairs, held a meeting with senior officials of the ministry and Directorate General of Shipping.
Subsequently, the Indian government introduced new rules to tighten the recruitment procedures of sailors and protect them from exploitation.
Due to the constant efforts of the mission in cooperation with the Federal Transport Authority, Sharjah Port Authority and Indian authorities, more than 220 Indian sailors stranded in UAE waters were sent back home in the second half of the year.
Sukumaran and his colleagues were among them.
It has been five months since Sukumaran reunited with his family. Speaking from his house in the South Indian state of Kerala, he said he has not yet informed his parents about his ordeal.
“If I tell them, they won’t let me go back to work on a ship again. This is the only job I know. I have my responsibilities and I need to build a home. I can’t afford to sit at home any longer,” said Sukumaran, who is scheduled to join a Saudi ship this month.
He said the new recruitment rules would definitely prevent sailors from exploitation. “Many people will benefit from this. Now I will also be careful,” he said, thanking Gulf News for its efforts in bringing the plight of the stranded sailors to the notice of the authorities.
Mandatory online procedures
As per the new rule, the hiring of sailors for foreign ships became mandatory through the e-Migrate online recruitment portal of the Indian government — www.emigrate.gov.in — from December 1, 2017.
The Consul-General of India in Dubai said this will stop sailors coming through unscrupulous agents who abandon them when there are problems while the sailors are aboard foreign ships.
“There will be greater accountability on the agents … and in case of problems, the Government of India will be able to take action through licensed agents in India who recruited the sailors … This will also stop the practice of sailors seeking their Continuous Discharge Certificate (seafarers’ identity document) from flags of convenience,” he had said.