Mumbai: For the last 28 days, 146 Indians aboard the Marella Discovery, a passenger ship currently in Indian waters and 84 nautical miles from the Mumbai coast, had been awaiting the Union Government's permission to disembark.
The plight of the Indians was brought to the notice of this reporter and she first got in touch with Vikas Kharge, the prinicipal secretary to the chief minister, who insisted she get in touch with the chairman of the Mumbai Port Trust, Sanjay Bhatia. However, Bhatia remained unreachable.
But on getting wind of The Free Press Journal's intervention in the matter, he got back to the reporter, informing her late on Tuesday night that the ship would be allowed to drop anchor at Mumbai and the 146 Indians would be allowed to disembark, after which, he informed, "They will be kept in isolation centre."
Until Tuesday afternoon the ship had only been allowed to enter Mumbai waters for refuelling, after which it had to return to Indian waters. But with the developments on Tuesday, the odyssey of the Indians aboard the ship has ended and they have received the all-clear from the Union Government to disembark.
The Indians on the ship included residents of Mumbai, Goa, Calcutta, Cochin, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai. Had the Centre's permission not been received, by Wednesday afternoon, the ship would have sailed off to Europe.
Maqvin Colasa, 29, who works at the duty-free shop on this ship, told The Free Press Journal, "The self-declaration details of the crew have been given to the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India.
We have been regularly undergoing health check-ups and no one has complained of fever, cold or any health problems so far. However, if they (government) still have doubts, they can send us to isolation centres. We understand that Maharashtra government has made arrangements to tackle the situation, so then why are we not being allowed to disembark?
Once the ship departs for Europe, coming back to India will be exceedingly difficult for us. And everyone knows, European countries have recorded the highest number of corona cases. If we go there and later come back to India infected, who should be held responsible?" The Vasai resident left for work last Christmas.
His family is filled with fear and foreboding for his welfare during this pandemic. Maqvin's wife Greenita, 28, is agonised that her husband is so close to home, yet so far. "It is really very painful to see that they are so near the Mumbai coast and yet, the Indian government is unable to help them. I have a five-month-old baby and he left home when the child was just a month old.
I am praying he comes back home safely," she said. The captain of the ship was helpful, she said. She also praised the South African government, which had allowed three of its nationals to disembark earlier in the ship's sojourn and questioned the Indian government's apathy in helping its own.
Maqvin too appreciated the officials on his ship for providing all the necessary help and taking care the crew's food and other requirements. Marella Discovery left Bangkok on March 14 and from then on, has been seaborne without calling on any port for the last 40 days. The ship has a capacity of 2,000 passengers and 700 crew.
At present, the crew strength is 653, 146 of them being Indians. Sagar Oza, 28, an Andheri resident working as a photographer on this ship, said, "I spoke with Vikas Kharge, who I believe, is an official from the Maharashtra government.
I also had a word with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who assured us that they were seeking permission from the Central government." Vikas Kharge is the principal secretary to the CM. His office confirmed the exchange but insisted this reporter reach out to the Mumbai Port Trust's (MbPT) office for further comment.
Activist Godfrey Pimenta, who was the first to reach out to these seafarers, has lambasted the Indian government for having failed to help its own people, who have been near the Mumbai coast for almost a month now. Pimenta said, "There are enough provisions made for quarantine purposes in Mumbai, such as the NSCI.
Also, we have stadiums like the Brabourne and Wankhede or the Cooperage Grounds, where these seafarers may be suitably quarantined, if space is an issue. So close to their motherland, yet these people feel abandoned by all concerned authorities till date. The government should act quickly, before the ships departs for Europe."