Eight ship managers joined forces with crewing firms to run a charterflight from Mumbai to Doha and back, as well as Delhi to Doha and back, to fly Indian crew looking to join ships abroad and to bring back those who had signed off after spending extended contract tenures at sea.
According to the Hindu Business Line, due to crew change restrictions entry into Qatar is restricted for Indians but transit through Doha is permitted, opening a window of opportunity for Indian seafarers to join ships at ports in a few countries. From Doha airport, Qatar Airways run flights to 19 cities.
The scheduled Mumbai-Doha chartered flight had planned to transfer 90 Indian seafarers and another 180 crew on the return leg to allow the costs to be spread over a larger number of people and make it affordable for travellers. It is stated that the entity chartering the flight pay for the onward and return leg.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Home Affairs has allowed Indian seafarers to fly out and also land in India on charter flights.
However, although the directorate general of shipping (DGS) granted permission for charter flights, the Ministry of External Affairs did not accept that, resulting to ship managers cancelling the plan to bring back 180 crew due to lapse of time limit set by the Carnival Cruise Line, as the government delayed approval and finally denied permission. The onward flight was also scrapped.
Commenting on the situation, Sanjay Prashar, managing director, V R Maritime Services, and one of the key persons who pursued the plan stated that
Whereas, the Indian government says you cannot sign off a foreigner, you cannot bring in an Indian seafarer, you cannot send an Indian seafarer and then you have so many procedures to follow and all the permission have to be taken by the shipping companies who never had any expertise taking permission from airlines and embassies.
The Mumbai-Doha-Mumbai chartered flight planned for Sunday was the first exercise for crew change overseas for Indian sailors and its success would have led to at least three more charter flights on the Delhi-Doha-Delhi sector in the first fortnight of June.