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Campaigning against unregistered crewing agencies in India – a year on

May 24, 2019
B17 Mahendra Singh

A year after we launched our campaign against unregistered crewing agencies in India, we review its impact and what needs to happen next.

It is mandatory for all Recruitment and Placement Services (RPS) providers in India to register with the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) and obtain a Recruitment and Placement Services Licence (RPSL). However, there are many unregistered crewing agencies operating in India and putting job-seeking seafarers at risk. The consequences for seafarers of joining merchant shipping through one of these agencies can range from poor working and living conditions on board and sea time not counted by the DGS, to unpaid wages and abandonment.

Indian seafarers who had signed up with unregistered agencies in the past

In January 2018, we launched a new campaign to sensitise Indian seafarers to these risks and discourage them from signing up with such agencies.

Spreading the word

With the support of a number of partners across the maritime industry, we produced a poster and flyer to communicate the campaign message to Indian seafarers.

2,500 copies of our campaign poster were printed and distributed to maritime training institutes, ship manning agencies, shipping companies, the DGS and its allied offices in India, seafarers’ centres, union offices and maritime doctor clinics all over India. ISWAN’s Regional Director in South Asia, Chirag Bahri, distributed our flyer at lectures he delivered to seafarers at maritime colleges. We also shared the campaign message on social media from January to March 2018 with promotional posts on Facebook and Instagram, which reached over 34,000 people.

Our campaign flyer

Evaluating the impact

The subject of the campaign became a talking point at a number of maritime events in India. Regular discussions by ISWAN India’s Programme Steering Group1 prompted the DGS to take proactive measures to sensitise Indian seafarers to the subject and tackle RPS agencies failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

In order to find out if knowledge and awareness had changed, we conducted two surveys of Indian seafarers via our social media channels – one before the campaign launch (conducted in December 2017) to find out how much seafarers knew about the risks, and the other a year after the launch (December 2018 to February 2019).

Although fewer seafarers completed the second survey (141 compared to 224 in the pre-campaign survey), the levels of knowledge and awareness showed an increase overall. A greater proportion of seafarers knew what an RPSL is a year after our campaign, and a larger percentage of seafarers was aware of the various risks associated with signing up with an unregistered agency.

When asked if they remembered seeing any of the campaign promotions, 50% of the seafarers who responded said they did, with almost equal numbers seeing the print materials versus the online promotions on social media. 87% of these seafarers said they felt the adverts had helped inform them about the subject.

Although the campaign has had a positive impact, there is more work to do to tackle the issues. The newly amended Merchant Shipping Bill, which contains stringent measures to deal with unregistered agencies, is still awaiting approval in Parliament, but we must continue to raise awareness among Indian seafarers of the risks.

© Barathan Anthony Arun

Looking to the future

ISWAN’s Regional Director in South Asia, Chirag Bahri, said: ‘The campaign against non-registered agencies has been widely acknowledged and supported by maritime fraternity including the Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai. Those seafarers who are studying in registered maritime colleges are better aware but there are aspiring youths coming from remote villages and small towns who get trapped due to lack of job opportunities on land. The campaign will have to go a long way in conducting workshops in various cities and by involving all maritime stakeholders and shipping fraternity, I am hopeful that this can be achievable. It is a great opportunity for every seafarer to take up this initiative further in his or her home town and help those who are not aware about the menace of joining shipping through non-registered agents.’

We would like to thank the Directorate General of Shipping for its support of this campaign, as well as the following campaign partners: the Maritime Association of Shipowners & Shipmanagers (MASSA), the Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA), the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA), the Indian Coastal Conference Shipping Association (ICCSA), the Maritime Union of India (MUI), the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI) and the Maritime Awareness Program Society (MAPS).

1ISWAN’s Programme Steering Group includes: the Indian National Shipowners' Association (INSA); the Maritime Association of Shipowners, Shipmanagers and Agents (MASSA); the Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA); the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI); the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI); the Maritime Union of India (MUI); the Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) India; Sailors’ Society; and the Mission to Seafarers.

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