Since the early months of 2020, many seafarers around the world have been stranded on ships longer than their contract because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prolonged time at sea certainly took a heavy toll on the crew. Deck Cadet Muhammad Aminn Anwar from Tripartite Nautical Training Award programme cohort 14 and Young SMOU (YSMOU) committee member shared with us his experience where he was stranded onboard ship for more than his contractual period.
Stuck on board due to COVID-19
Muhammad Aminn Anwar signed on the ship on 23 January last year. What was intended to be a 6 months contract ending in July 2020 became a prolonged period of being stranded on dry dock for 11 months in China following borders closures and other unforeseen circumstances.
“We were prohibited from going ashore, the prolonged time onboard had been so surreal. We were all feeling worried and anxious about how we were going to be repatriated home,” Aminn recounted. Thankfully, even in the midst of all the chaos brought about by the pandemic, Aminn was heartened that “the union never failed to reach out to me to check on my wellbeing. The SMOU officials, as well as my Master would reassure that we are not forgotten and constantly reminded us that they are working round the clock and doing their best with the crew change crisis.”
When the time gets tough, Aminn, together with his crew, would look out for each other. One of the challenges he faced on board was access to proper medical treatment. Hospitals were on the brink as caseloads soar and getting medical treatment for crew became a tedious and complicated process for the agents and the company. The biggest challenge onboard was “keeping a positive attitude and healthy mind and body. Seafarers are a special breed of professionals. To be in this line of work, not only do we have to be physically fit, but mentally too,” said Aminn.
Crew change possible, but difficult
For many, there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately for Aminn, he was finally repatriated back to Singapore after 11 months, thanks to the efforts from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Pacific International Lines and SMOU.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were about 100,000 crew changes each month, typically after serving contracts capped at 11 months under the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention. The urgency to designate seafarers as key workers is clear as the global economy depends on the work of seafarers.
“To all the seafarers who are still sailing during the pandemic, my hats off to you! You are the unsung heroes and key workers that keep the global supply chain going. You are not forgotten nor alone. Seek help if needed and most importantly, stay safe!”
SMOU members and seafaring officers at the heart of SMOU
As the Union is commemorating its 70th Anniversary this year, SeaVoices took the opportunity to learn about Aminn’s memorable moments with SMOU. A member of 3 years, Aminn had attended quite a number of events organised by the union. One of the most memorable moments was his volunteering stint to bring the students from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore for a visit to the Singapore Science Centre back in 2018. “Volunteering with YSMOU in their ‘Caring and Sharing’ events really struck a chord in my heart. If I was given the chance to do more good, I will not miss the opportunity to volunteer and to help the community together with the union.” said Aminn.
Before the interview ended, Aminn told SeaVoices, “SMOU is more than just a union. It is a huge family where everyone is welcomed. Thank you for the excellent work that you have done for the seafarers and the community. To all the members, please stay safe wherever you are. Fair winds and following seas to you all!”