Our Regional Programme provides humanitarian support to seafarers and their families in three specific regions: South East Asia, South Asia and Nigeria. Meet our representative in India and South Asia, Chirag...
Tell us about yourself.
I sailed for almost 10 years at sea on different types of ships, starting as Junior Engineer and then clearing Chief Engineer’s licence prior to joining MPHRP in 2012. I have been associated with ISWAN since coming ashore and I established the work programme in the India and South Asia region. I am married to Deepali, who is a professional make-up artist and have been blessed with a handsome, cute son who is two years old.
What is life like for a seafarer in your region?
Seafaring in South Asia has been one of the oldest and noblest professions, and is regarded as one of most adventurous and well paying. The seafarers work hard and are away from their home and from their family for a few months. Sadly, their contribution towards society in my region is not well acknowledged. Seafarers – especially juniors and ratings – have been facing issues of poor employment prospects, and because of their desire to find work they sometimes get lured by non-registered agents, leading to a lot of problems for them and their families. A seafarer is meant to be a ‘king of his life’ in the sense that when he is on leave, he can spend a lot of his time with his loved ones, do as many things he wishes to and not have to worry about work. This helps provide periods of relaxation and refreshment to be able to again go back on ship.
How are you able to help seafarers?
In India, ISWAN works with range of different partners and has established a unique Programme Steering Group which has members from the Maritime Administration, industry, unions, maritime professional organisations and welfare associations. This meets every quarter to discuss on ISWAN’s work programme in the region. Due to the contribution of each of these partners, we try to provide best possible humanitarian support to a seafarer or family who may be in need of any assistance.
What skills are important for your work with seafarers?
My own rich experience of life at sea, and knowledge of the efforts that my family made behind the scenes in keeping everything working together, has helped me immensely to understand and correlate the difficulties and issues that seafarers face. While responding to a seafarer who may be in distress, one needs to be compassionate, humble, and empathetic. It is very crucial to build trust with the seafarer or their family, therefore honesty and truthfulness plays an important role in my work.
What have you needed to do to help the families of seafarers?
The seafarer’s family is the backbone of the seafarer and so they too suffer whenever he/she is affected by any traumatic event. The families need someone to speak to, share their feelings with and have an understanding of the real facts and scenarios during an incident. A person dealing with the families has to be compassionate, have patience and lend an open ear to try to understand the specific problems faced by that family. It is important to share contact details and to be available should they wish to speak again, and to reassure on the confidentiality of any conversation. Trust, once established, needs to be carefully maintained and it can only survive when one is true to them.
What is a typical day for you?
ISWAN South Asia has now a 3-year programme which is funded by the Trafigura Foundation. Amongst various projects that are being worked on, we do receive lots of cases concerning seafarers’ abandonment, wages not been paid or other contractual issues. ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp helpline works together with the Regional team to provide the best possible guidance and support to such seafarers. ISWAN India is also now working on a campaign to sensitise seafarers to join shipping through registered agents, and we are also working to promote mental wellbeing of seafarers at sea and working closely with WISTA and other organisations on promoting women in shipping. The programme is also working with other partners on encouraging ports to establish Port Welfare Committees which is a requirement under MLC 4.4. Working on these projects together with our welfare services to seafarers and their families constitutes a normal day’s work.
What is the best part of the work you do?
Being able to stand with the seafarer or their family during a time of crisis and to guide them to ways – based on best practice – which may help them to come out of it. It gives immense satisfaction and a sense of relief to see smiles back on their faces.
Tell us about some of the more memorable cases you have worked on at ISWAN.
Some of the most memorable are those that we worked on during the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), providing humanitarian support to seafarers and their families affected by piracy incidents. The support was provided to families not only during the captivity of their kin but when the seafarer returned, assisting with rehabilitation to enable them to rejoin a ship or to start a small work to sustain their livelihood if they felt unable to return to sea. Some of these seafarers have now cleared higher certification examinations and have been promoted on board to higher ranks which is an inspiration to many of us. Winning the Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year award in 2015 at an event held at IMO, I think it was one of the proudest moments for me and for my family, and provided recognition for all the seafarers who were supported by the South Asia Regional Programme.