news Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 05:30

Image for representation purpose only/Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons Vignesh Ramakrishnan was all of 19-years when tragedy struck him and two others in February this year. On February 4, they inhaled poisonous gas from the tank of Cara USIA, a ship owned by a Malaysian company and succumbed to death immediately. As the accident occurred on foreign soil, retrieving the body of their son was a nightmare for Vignesh's parents. They were made to run from pillar to post, from the college administration, the commissioner’s office and even to the local police station, the couple went through a horrendous experience. They eventually received the body three weeks later on February 24. When someone dies on our soil, immediate action is taken to facilitate the return, but who is there to help Indian sailors abroad, asks a friend of the family. “When the body arrived in Madurai, there was not a single official along with us. There was no one from the government,” he says. Vignesh’s father A Ramakrishnan says that he spent Rs. 3 lakhs in enrolling his son as an engine cadet at Jams Marine College in Thoothukudi district for a six-month course following his school education. The college then sent him on an on-site job in Malaysia. The couple then paid an additional Rs. 2.5 lakhs to the college in order to facilitate his travel. Now, the college is refusing to compensate and has washed its hands off any responsibility over the incident. As the International Maritime Organization (IMO) celebrates “Day of the Seafarers” on June 25, the National Coordinator for Sailors Helpline V Manoj Joy asks why such organizations don’t help sailors in their dire need. “When they are celebrating such days, it is necessary for them to make people aware of the harsh realities that exist instead of brushing them under the carpet,” he says. According to him, such organisations are of little help when seafarers are in distress. Ironically, the theme for this year’s celebration is “Careers at Sea”, an attempt to promote the vocation among youngsters. But not all youngsters have had it easy after choosing the career. Gender bias is a deep-rooted problem in the industry. Twenty-three year old Ramya (name changed) who finished her graduation in nautical science from a college in Chennai has been in search of jobs for the last eight months. “I was inspired by a lady who was the first woman marine engineer in the country on board a ship. I too wanted to become like her, but little did I know it was so difficult,” she says. Every company that she has approached seeking job has turned her down, not because she was not qualified enough for the job, but simply because she is a girl. According to her, many companies refused to hire female candidates because they were of the belief that girls tend to discontinue from the job soon. “Some companies even have a policy to not hire female cadets,” she claims. If that wasn’t enough, Ramya has to deal with agents who demand a high sum assuring her a job in good company. She says that few companies claim to have no vacancies when approached, but agents call her up later in the day demanding a few lakhs and promising to get a job in 10-15 days. “I see that there is no point in attending interviews, instead we could pay off trusted agents and get a job,” she adds. Her father, who owns a small general store, is the sole bread winner of the family. Ramya is in desperate need of a job as she has to repay her educational loan of Rs. 9.5 lakhs. Another case of lack of support from sailor bodies is the example of four seafarers who have been stranded in Kuwait since June 2013 after they were detained by Kuwait police as the ship they were working on was found to be carrying diesel illegally, without receipt and customs. Two years later, they are still waiting to return home. They have received little help from officials at the Indian embassy in Kuwait or from those at home. With several problems plaguing the industry, Manoj Joy feels that the Directorate General of Shipping and other sailor organisations needs to be more proactive in addressing the issues of the seafarers.  Like Ramya and Vignesh, many candidates have loans to repay and are in dire need of assistance from such organisations. “Tell both sides of the story to make them aware of the drawbacks. Let them then make a decision to enter the industry or not,” he says.