After a crew member tested positive for Covid-19 at Alang about 10 days ago, Gujarat government has changed the Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) for Covid-19 by introducing “vessel isolation” at the country’s biggest ship breaking yard, which is one of the shores that is permitting entry of foreigners in the country. Instead of the sailors being allowed to disembark, now those having Covid 19 symptoms will be isolated on board and will be paid visits by doctors.

In the last three months, about 300 of the total 500 crew members who came to Alang, riding on old ships meant to be broken and dismantled, are foreigners. Nine of the crew have tested positive so far. This includes Indians and nationals of Philippines and Poland.

The ship-breaking industry reopened on April 20, after the lockdown in Gujarat and there has been a huge influx of ships beaching on the shores for being recycled. In the 10 working days of April, four ships came to Alang. In May it rose to five and later in June, 25 ships came, which was more than the 20 ships that came during the same month in 2019.

Along with these ships — that had flags of Bahamas, Hong Kong, Tanzania, St Kitts and Nevis, Liberia, Panama and Singapore — came both Indian and foreign crew who had to disembark at Alang and head back to their next destination through land routes.

“When the first positive case came at Alang on June 29, we realised that the crew could pose risk and so we have now changed the SoP. Now the samples are take onboard the vessel that beaches at Alang. Earlier, the crew was allowed to disembark the vessel after it was beached, and then they used to be taken by car or vans, all the way to Bhavnagar for test. This increased the risk of exposure,” said Gaurang Makwana, district collector of Bhavnagar.

He said all crew members have to mandatorily give samples on board the vessel whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. “If they are found symptomatic and do not have any comorbity, then they will continue to stay in their rooms on the vessel and our doctors will check their vitals and give them medicines everyday. You may call it vessel isolation,” he added. Currently there are two crew members isolated on one vessel in Alang.

“We have also allowed hotel isolation on paid basis for all those who test positive. We have allowed about six hotels to offer packages for isolation to the crew members… The shipping agents make the payments,” Makwana added.

The Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA) which consists of ship recyclers at Alang said that as per the changed SoP neither the plot owner who purchased the decaying vessel nor the custom officials are allowed to board. “The medical team boards the vessel first after it beaches at Alang. The customs officials accompany them, but they sit in the tug below, while the medical teams climb up. The crew is tested first and after the results come, some of us board the vessel,” said Haresh Parmar, secretary of SRIA and a ship breaker at Alang.

“This change in SoP will minimise any possible spread of Covid from the ship’s crew to the labourers who work on the ground,” he added. Apart from the crew of the ships, about 177 labour working on the plots dismantling the ship at Alang were also tested. All reports have been negative so far.

SRIA has also created a 200-bed strong quarantine facility at the labour colony operated by Gujarat Maritime Board at Alang. “There are two blocks that have been turned into a quarantine facility for anyone who needs it at Alang. It is a free of cost facility,” said Parmar. However, crew members who land in Alang opt largely for hotel quarantine as the facility is in a labour colony and has very basic facilities.

The crew of the ship after disembarkation at Alang are issued an e-pass which is a transit pass from the place of disembarkation to the place of his/her residence. This e-pass is provided by the Directorate General of Shipping.

Source:- Hellenic Shipping News