The Indian government has proposed strong safeguards for Indian seafarers being hired by foreign carriers.
The new rules under the Merchant Shipping Bill of 2016, which was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday, require foreign carriers or their recruitment agencies to deposit a bank guarantee of up to Rs 20 lakh with the Director General of Shipping for every seafarer they hire.
The Director General of Shipping will have the right to invoke this bank guarantee in case the ship is hijacked and the money will be used to secure the release and return of the Indian farer. The Bill is likely to be introduced in the ongoing parliament session.
In the last eight years, about 500 Indians have been held captive by pirates across the globe. There are about 1.5 lakh Indian seafarers, constituting close to 10% of all the seafarers in the world. Under the proposed rules, foreign carriers will also have to pay wages to the family of seafarers held captive until their release.
“At present, foreign carriers can get away by not paying the wages of a seafarer in case he is held captive,” a senior shipping ministry official said. “But under the new rules, they will have to pay the wages. They will also have to bear the cost of repatriation. Seafarers cannot be left in the lurch,” .
The government will also make it mandatory for all sea-going vessels, irrespective of their size (gross tonnage), area of operation and whether propelled or not, to be registered under the proposed law. This is to ensure that there is no repeat of the 26/11-type attacks when terrorists from Pakistan used boats to reach Mumbai. “This is to foster enhanced maritime security,” the official said.
Under the proposed law, the government will also allow vessels owned jointly by Indian and foreign entities to be registered under the Indian flag, provided the Indian entity holds a majority share in the vessel, by way of substantial ownership by the latter.
“This change in law is aimed to increase tonnage under the Indian flag and could also bring in foreign investment