Maritime

ITF Helps Global Seafarers Repatriate via Spain

The Fairchem Mako, whose crew the ITF helped to get off and get home

Philippines crew from tanker Giancarlo D return home

For the crew of chemical tanker Giancarlo D, Luz Baz and the ITF are a godsend. Luz is the ITF Coordinator for Spain, and she has been working with ship management in recent weeks to get five Philippines-based crew of the Giancarlo D repatriated to their home country.

The efforts come during the height of border restrictions causing a global crew change crisis, thanks largely to governments’ reactions to Covid-19.

The ship’s management company, Poli Ship management, had been making efforts to get the crew off for weeks, as April turned into May and May into June. But the combination of scarce flights to the Philippines and issues with visas requirements in various countries, had been preventing the agency from being able to put together a winning plan.

It was when the company saw the ITF’s message that ‘Enough was Enough’ that they got in touch with the global federation. 

“On Thursday 18th of June I received a call from Mr Golenkovs, from De Poli Ship Management, a company based in the Netherlands responsible for recruiting and manning ships in Europe. He had heard the ITF would assist with helping to get seafarers home and was eager to know if I could assist,”

“While he felt like there wasn’t any hope, that it was proving impossible to repatriate the crew, he said we had a good opportunity with the Giancarlo D en route to Algeciras in Spain for a short time call.  This was our chance to get several Philippines seafarers, who were over their contracts, off the ship and back to their home country,”

The Giancarlo D is a Maltese-flagged vessel and is covered by an ITF agreement.

Luz told the ship management company that despite seafarers being declared “key workers” by the Spanish Government on 28th April, in practice seafarers were still not being given the exemptions they needed to disembark and be relieved by fresh crew in Spain.

“We still face many difficulties. I told him that I could just guarantee my commitment to try everything possible to help the crew,”

And committed she was. 

“I contacted the local agent of De Poli and I hit a wall. They were quite arrogant when they explained me the regular procedures to repatriate the crew, it was hard to make them understand that we´re in a special moment which need special solutions. Considering that the local agent was not proactive at all, I directly contacted the immigration authorities in Algeciras,”

Algeciras is the biggest port in Spain, and Luz says that the authorities there, including a local policeman, were aware of the crew change crisis and were willing to help, or at least, to listen and try their best.

“Around Algeciras there were at that time lover 400 Filipino seafarers waiting to be repatriated and it was hard to find the way to accommodate them in hotels and guarantee flights for them,”

“After several more contacts and after getting the full support from the ITF, the company proactively succeeded in moving all involved parties to help the crew to be repatriated,” she said.

Reflecting on her success in getting yet more seafarers home to their families, Luz says “I think that this case showcases perfectly that collaboration between employers and the ITF is possible and can be effective. Working as a team is the key to succeed in our global and interconnected business, especially during such a critical period in time.”

And it seems not only the crew have been thankful for her help and support.

Mr Gulenkos, from the De Poli Ship Management, wrote to her and said in a grateful e-mail: “It is a good example for others to see that if you don’t give up and keep on trying, things will work out”.

Fairchem Mako’s Indian seafarers relieved by fresh crew via Germany, Spain

Many of the crew of the Fairchem Mako, a chemical and oil products tanker built in 2018, had been working on board the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel for Anglo-Eastern for more than a year when the ITF became involved with helping them to get off the vessel and get home.

The Maritime Labour Convention sets a maximum of 11 months on board for seafarers. Recent studies by Yale show that working on board longer, including through unexpected contract extensions, can have a serious impact on seafarer mental wellbeing.

According to Enrico Esopa, ITF Coordinator for the US East Coast, the crew had been trying to get off the Fairchem Mako for some time. The ITF was notified on 15 June that seafarers aboard had completed their contracts and sought repatriation. Enrico Esopa followed up on the case as the vessel was transiting the Panama Canal 16/17 June,  bound for Colombia. Seafarers tried to disembark in Columbia, but were not successful due to closed airports and a lack of international flights.

So when the ship set sail for Barcelona, ITF Coordinator for Spain Luz Baz was ready and willing to help the crew be repatriated to India when their ship called in.

On 3 July, Luz emailed the Anglo-Eastern, copying in her comrades from Indian seafarer affiliates and the North American-based Seafarers International Union (SIU), who had been working on the case.

She told the company that she had been informed that there are several crew members over contract on board the vessel, and that they needed to be urgently repatriated upon the ship’s arrival in Barcelona, Spain:

“Considering that your vessel  is covered by an ITF approved agreement signed with SIU, I would like to avoid any delays of the ship in Barcelona, and I would like to escape from escalating the case by the involvement of the PSC and the Flag State authorities.  In order to avoid so, could you, please, send us ASAP, a detailed plan to repatriate the crew from upon arrival of your ship in our port? Can you send us the contact details of your local agent?  We need to receive this information before Monday 6th of July at 10 GMT.”

She explained that the ITF was willing to collaborate with the company, as it has done already with others, to get crew repatriated via Spain. With the right documentation, Luz told the company that seafarers’ key worker status in Spain could make repatriation possible “if there is enough willingness”.

From there, Anglo-Eastern’s management in Singapore organised for “20 off-signers to disembark the vessel on completion of cargo and bunkering operations to depart Barcelona on 10 July 2020 for Doha to connect to another Chartered flight for onward travel back into India and their families”, they confirmed in emails to the ITF. Another 18 crew are joining the ship. The ‘joiners’ are leaving India on charter flights and travelling to Barcelona via Germany, where they will receive their Schengen “Visa on Arrival”.

On hearing news that their husband and dad would be coming home to India, one seafarers’ thankful family wrote to the ITF to say “Thank you from my heart on behalf of his wife and daughter. I received message from him about his sign off. Thank you for supporting seafarers.”

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