For Bangladeshi sailors, life on ships has lost steam amid pandemic. They are stuck in ports

Shipping seems to have suffered less than other means of transport have dealing with the coronavirus pandemic’s brutal wake, but longer stays on board are leaving the Bangladeshi sailors in a quagmire as most ports are not allowing them to disembark.

Senior CorrespondentKamal Talukder,
Published : 11 July 2020, 02:44 AM
Updated : 11 July 2020, 02:44 AM

Many of them have to return by sea as they are unable to catch planes even after their contract or visa has ended.

About 5,000 Bangladeshi officers, sailors, and crew members are working on ships of local or foreign companies and contracts of more than 2,000 of them have ended. But the outbreak has stalled their return or other plans.

Marine engineer Marufur Rahman has returned home recently after he ran down his nine-month contract with Jamuna Group.

The officer of Ocean Pride said panic spread among the sailors in Chattogram when the pandemic began in China.

Shipping slowed down at the time, triggering fears of job losses among the sailors, he said.

Finally, Marufur’s employers received shipping orders and they set sail to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and  Singapore in the past four months amid the outbreak.  

“The pandemic has had some effect. We weren’t able to disembark in all the cities. Staying on the ship for long can leave someone mentally vulnerable,” he said.

Many of the marine engineers in other companies told him that they cannot return home even after the expiry of their contracts or passports or visas due to the suspension on air travel.

Some others were unable to renew papers in the Bangladeshi embassies at the destinations.

For instance, he said, a Bangladeshi marine engineer in Brazil is willing to return home now after seeing out his contract, but it will take at least 35 days for him to return by sea. He cannot fly back by air now. 

The problem is worse for those working in international firms as they need to travel further. Bangladeshi firms run shipping operations to Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore.

Restrictions on boarding ships have created another problem, said Sumon Mahmud, the managing director at the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation.

“We can’t recruit new workers even though the old ones have run their contracts,” he said.    

The eight ships of Bangladesh Shipping Corporation are transporting goods amid the pandemic, but fewer companies are hiring the ships now than they would do in normal times, said Sumon.

Not all countries have put restrictions on getting on or off the ships. A housewife, ‘Sadia’, said her husband is a member of a ship’s crew and they were allowed to get off in Australia and New Zealand.

Commodore Syed Ariful Islam, the director general at the Department of Shipping, said they had asked the home ministry to issue electronic ravel pass to the sailors, officers and crew members, whose documents expired, in late March fearing that many would get stuck due to the pandemic.

He said the department has confronted no complaints on the complexities stemming from the outbreak.

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