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Sailors’ families can now dial a friend

Indian sailors working in foreign vessels have been subjected to discrimination, ill-treatment and, worse, denial of compensation for accidents and death

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Sailors’ families can now dial a friend
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CHENNAI: 'Whalemen themselves are poor devils'. More than 150 years after Herman Melville penned those words for `Moby Dick', a large number of India's one-lakh odd seafarers remain just that: poor devils. Indian sailors working in foreign vessels have been subjected to discrimination, ill-treatment and, worse, denial of compensation for accidents and death. A Chennai-based helpline operated by a former seafarer now offers a glimmer of hope.

V. Manoj Joy, who crisscrossed the seas for 18 years, took retirement in 2001 at a young age of 37 to help his compatriots in distress. Formally launched last year, his free helpline (sailorshelpline@yahoo.com and tel: 0455345252) receives about five complaints or enquiries every month from families of sailors. He has been successful in taking at least ten cases to its logical end, without going through bureaucratic rigmaroles and long-winding legal corridors.
 
A typical email to Joy reads thus: "My wife has informed me that Ten Ocean Marine has cleared my dues. I am grateful to you. I am out at sea and am likely to be back home soon". The email is from Captain AK Kapoor, who failed to get his arrears after a new company took over the ship he was working in. When he approached the new employer, he was threatened. The helpline helped.

"I get calls and emails from families of sailors who go missing and those who are badly treated by ship owners and agents. I put the families to the right people and use my own network of sailors' organisations and port authorities all over the world to get the grievances addressed. It's a totally unofficial approach", says Joy, who also publishes `Waves', a monthly maritime newsletter.

While the Western and European countries have an effective system of tracking and attending to their sailors' complaints, Indian sailors have been in troubled waters for long. Indian sailors' families have been struggling to get in touch with their dear ones who go incommunicado for long. "We have enough rules and infrastructure to look into the complaints, but the bureaucratic set-up refuses to function beyond the role of a post office, collecting letters and passing it on to another", says Joy.

Joy's decision to struggle for his clan stems from a bitter experience he had in a foreign vessel in the late 1990s. On his journey from an African port to Mumbai, he was denied food and complaints were met with threats. He bore the brunt till the vessel docked in Mumbai and then saw to it that the ship was detained.

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