State asking shipping cos to pay for quarantine violates Centre’s rules

The state government may have been insisting on the cruise liners and ship owners to pay for quarantine facilities for the seafarers but the standard operating protocol by the ministry of home affairs and the directorate general of shipping clearly puts the onus on the government for providing them with the facilities.

The Goa government has also imposed additional quarantine measures over and above the Centre’s protocol.

As per the March 20 order of DG shipping, crew aboard vessels that arrive at an Indian port after 14 days of departure from a foreign port do not have to be quarantined. The MHA’s SOP issued on April 21 said the port health authorities will grant a clean bill of health to the crew (pratique) after checking all the medical records, after which the crew members will be tested for Covid-19.

“For the seafarer tested negative and signed-off, the local authority where the seafarer disembarks will be intimated about his clearance for sign-off and for issue of a transit pass from the place of disembarkation to the place of his or her residence,” the MHA’s SOP states.

Chief minister Pramod Sawant has admitted that the seafarers tested negative for the Covid-19 after disembarking in Mumbai. More importantly, the vessels have been in Indian waters for more than a month and their last port call was 40 days ago, thus meeting DG shipping’s March 20 order.

“The government can put in additional measures, but it does not mean that the vessel owner has to pay for it. All other states have sent their seafarers home. Only the Goa government is trying to seek an additional measure of a paid quarantine without justification,” said captain Venzy Viegas.

According to Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, shipowners have to bear treatment and quarantine costs of their crew members once they join duty and till they are duly repatriated. On April 7, the Maritime Labour Convention was amended to set Covid-19 specific guidelines.

It said expense of medical care and quarantine as a safety precaution must be covered by the shipowner until the seafarers are considered to be duly repatriated. The crew members have been quarantined aboard the vessel for over 14 days and in compliance with the MLC and International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines, the ship owner has borne the bill for this.

Goa Seafarers’ Association founder Dixon Vaz said that shipping firms would be liable to pay medical and quarantine fees only when the crew members are on board the vessel and if the sailors were not already quarantined on the ship.

Former advocate general for Goa and prominent high court lawyer Carlos Alvares Ferreira also questioned the objective of a paid quarantine facility for seafarers.

“The seafarers were already quarantined on board before disembarking. They could be home quarantined even if required for an extended period if the state government wants to take additional precautions,” said Ferreira.

The 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR) of the United Nations, of which India is a signatory, say that in times of a pandemic, “under no circumstances shall travellers or conveyance operators be denied the ability to depart from the territory of a state party pending payment of the charges”.

“Immigration has already stamped home quarantine for the crew and the port health officer (PHO) has certified all the processes and agreed to the sign-off after verifying that they have no symptoms. Does it mean that the state government does not trust DG shipping procedure, the PHO and the immigration officials,” said Viegas.