New Central law on mandatory passports may hit cargo sailors hard

Thousands of ‘country vessel’ (wooden cargo ships) sailors in Gujarat might just lose their jobs if a new Central legislation comes into effect in June. The Centre is all set to make passport mandatory for sailors.

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot | Published:March 9, 2009 2:09 am

Thousands of ‘country vessel’ (wooden cargo ships) sailors in Gujarat might just lose their jobs if a new Central legislation comes into effect in June. The Centre is all set to make passport mandatory for sailors.

Majority of the 10,000 country vessel sailors in Gujarat are a worried lot. They hardly have any documents to produce,which is why they cannot even apply for a passport. So far,the seamen card was enough for them to sail.

Gujarat is the only state in the country that has this industry that offers short distance cargo services. Following the Centre’s latest security measure,however,the industry now fears losing manpower. The law is likely to come into force in June.

Deadline for producing documents has already been extended thrice,as majority of seamen could not produce school leaving certificate,last school attendance proof and other related documents.

“We are poor and uneducated. Except ration cards and Below Poverty Line cards,we hardly have any document required to obtain a passport. If the new rule is enforced,none of us will be in a position to sail,” said Ajam Bhaya,a sailor from the coastal village of Salaya in Jamnagar district.

Majority of these sailors come from villages like Salaya,Diu and Mandvi. They take high and low value cargo to shorter routes like Dubai and the Middle East. There are a total of over 350 vessels in Gujarat that operate from centres like Salaya,Porbandar,Veraval,Mangrol,Okha,Mandvi,Gandhidham and Jakhau.

“It will be too difficult to get passports for these men. We fear that we might end up losing crew in large numbers,” said Ashok Bhanusali,a member of Gandhidham Vahanvata (country vessel) Association,adding that the sailors have extremely poor backgrounds.

Bhanusali said thrice the deadline was extended by the government,but even this time they are not sure if they could put together the required things.

Until now,the sailors have sailed on seamen card issued by the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD). At places like Porbandar and Mandvi,other agencies like maritime board have issued the cards on MMD’s behalf.

“So far,they have not faced any problem as such. Even in case of medical problems,the seamen have never opted for air travel where passport is mandatory,” Bhanusali added.

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