Shipowners and charities have teamed up to launch an emergency relief fund to get aid to seafarers and their families devastated by the rampant Covid-19 pandemic in India and other countries.
Following a year that at one point saw 400,000 crew members stuck on vessels beyond their contracts, a new wave of infections is resulting in countries such as Singapore closing their doors to those with a recent travel history to India, Nepal, Pakistan and other South Asian nations.
The new Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF) has set a target of raising $1m.
A number of major shipping organisations have already pledged their support to the fund, including Cargill, Mediterranean Shipping Co, Anglo-Eastern, Hafnia, Pacific Basin, V.Group and Ardmore Shipping.
Ardmore's chief operating officer Mark Cameron has been a driving force behind the plan.
"As we have seen the situation in India deteriorate rapidly over the past few days, it is clear that this unprecedented crisis required an unprecedented response from all of us," Cameron said.
"Shipping is a global family and, right now, our Indian seafarers need our help."
Cameron added that many workers at sea are worried about their families back home as the situation worsens in India.
"With limited contact with home, they are caught between ongoing travel restrictions and the crew-change crisis, and the understandable desire to continue working to support their families," he said.
The executive is urging everyone to donate to what he called a "critical" appeal.
The fund will quickly get aid to seafarers through existing welfare programmes run by charity partners in India.
Support to remain in place
The plan is to ensure that support can remain in place over what the partners see as challenging weeks and months ahead.
Other countries also remain highly vulnerable to the pandemic, including those with large numbers of international seafarers.
The SIRF stands ready to support them should the need arise.
The relief effort is being coordinated by The Seafarers' Charity and supported by The Mission to Seafarers, ISWAN, Sailors’ Society and other charities.
"We are all shocked by the scenes from India, where an already critical situation is getting more desperate with every passing hour," Catherine Spencer, chief executive of The Seafarers' Charity, said.
"India is facing a crisis on the frontline of its fight against the pandemic and this is directly affecting seafarers and their families who have already suffered tremendously over the past 15 months."
Collective help can prove crucial
She said the fund participants were under no illusions about the scale of the challenge, but believe "collective help" can make a difference.
Spencer said: "Our aim is to send a clear message about the urgency of the crisis faced by seafarers globally."
She called on companies and individuals from across shipping to get behind the fund and donate now.
To contribute, please visit https://donate.theseafarerscharity.org/sirf or contact keziah.cunningham@the seafarerscharity.org.