30.04.2020

No any country should use Covid-19 as a reason for refusing to provide urgent medical care to any seafarer in need

 After almost four days of fighting with the Indonesian authorities, a 45 year old Russian seafarer with symptoms of a stroke finally received medical care  which he was denied several times under the pretext of restrictions imposed in the country. Despite the fact that on board the m/v  WL Palekh (flag of Malta, IMO 9674397), where he worked, infection Covid-19 was not detected, in violation of  MLC-2006 and the SOLAS  the Indonesian authorities from April 18 has not given permission for an emergency evacuation of a crrwmember. The Seafarers Union of Russia  mobolized all those who could help to overcome administrative barriers as  human life was at stake.

During the passage from  Singapore  to New Palmyra, a crewmember from the  m/v WL Palekh  was found on the floor of his cabin on Saturday, April 18, at 12.20 Moscow time. As follows from the report of captain m/v WL Palekh to the management company  INOK TM the vessel was 142 miles from Indonesia and 154  from Banda Aceh (the largest city and capital of Aceh province in Indonesia on the North coast of Sumatra), where the Indonesian national marine rescue coordination center is located. At 15.28 Moscow time a request for emergency medical evacuation was sent there via satellite communication. To be sure the request was duplicated by email. After half an hour, at 16.12  the folliwing response was received: "We have received your information and understand your condition, but frankly saying,  we cannot help you for the following reason: Indonesia, in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, is closed to entry and exit by government order. We passed the information on to the immigration, quarantine and port authorities, but they also refused. We don't have enough protection against the pandemic."

At 16.26 the captain requested medical advice via remote channel from Global Voyager Assistance (GVA), at 17.45 GVA issued appropriate prescriptions and diagnosed a stroke. The seafarer  needed urgent medical evacuation. But the Indonesian port of Sabang also refused to help and at 22.40 Moscow time the WL Palekh set a course for Belavan at full speed.

  The evacuation was refused everywhere, the Indonesian authorities kept a blind defense and offered the captain ether to go to Sri Lanka, this is another 4 days, or to Singapore, - says the Chairman of the Seafarers Union of Russia Yuriy Sukhorukov. Then we asked for help from our friendly Seafarers ' Union of Indonesia( KPI). On Sunday, April 19, KPI held talks with the responsible Indonesian authorities and received confirmation that the vessel is allowed to call Belawan.

On April 20, at 8. 15 Moscow time in accordance with instructions received from the company, an urgent message "Pan-Pan" with the request for emergency medical assistance was sent from the m/v  WL Palekh  to the port traffic Service (VTS) Belavan. At 10.20 Moscow time the vessel anchored 9.4 miles (17.4 km) from the port in accordance with the instructions of VTS Belavan. It was only necessary to wait for the boat for evacuation. At 14.15 information was received on board that the medical specialists accompanied by representatives of the quarantine service would soon arrive to provide medical assistance. However, an hour and a half later, the situation changed radically again.  At 15.45 Moscow time the harbour master via VTS  demanded to hove up and leave Belavan. The situation was completely out of control, no one understood what was happening and what other arguments were needed, taking in mind valuable  which was important to save the seafarer time was waisting  though every minute  was important. 

It is not known how everything would have been resolved if the top officials of the Russian Ministry of transport and the Ministry of foreign affairs had not intervened. Despite the pressing engagements due to COVID -19, they immediately responded to our request, put aside all business and literally started  saving the life of a citizen of our country, which can not but cause me and my colleagues a sense of pride and respect,  - says Yuriy Sukhorukov. They took control of the situation and were constantly in touch with the Russian ambassador in Indonesia. Only thanks to their perseverance and active support  the situation was turned around. In addition, our position was supported by numerous appeals from the IMO, ILO, ITF and ICS.

 Meanwhile, while representatives of the Russian authorities sought adequate assistance for a citizen of their country, the Indonesian authorities continued to persist. So at 18.45 Moscow time master of the vessel through a local ship agent again received an order to hove up and immediately leave the port, since the authorities of Belavan refused to evacuate the sick seaman. From the KPI report from the 20 of April  meeting with port and immigration authorities, and coast guard representatives:
1. All institutions (port medical center, harbour master, immigration service)  agree that a crew member cannot be evacuated to Belavan.

2. The alternative option is that the port health officer of the port of Belavan along with a medical team will board the vessel to provide first aid.

3. No matter what happens to a crewmember, he will still not get permission to evacuate.
4. Immigration in accordance with the current legal provisions also does not grant permission to disembark a crew member.

5. The Belavan port authority will board the vessel upon receiving an official letter from the harbour master.
6. If the harbour master does not issue an  permission for first aid to a crew member, the port health officer and doctor will not board the vessel."

The captain ignored the authorities  demands to leave the port, despite they were received on board at intervals of every two or three hours. All this time he personally provided his crewmember with the necessary medical care, making injections and IVS. As a result, another 16 valuable hours were spent fighting with the authorities and only at night at 1.20 Moscow time, the long-awaited police boat with doctors approached the WL Palekh  and the seafarer was evacuated.

It is worth noting that while the situation was resolving, the SUR appealed to the International transport workers Federation (ITF), which called on the International labour organization (ILO) and the International Maritime organization (IMO) to urgently intervene and call on the Indonesian government to comply with international conventions and provide immediate medical assistance to the seafarer. "As a signatory to the ILO Maritime labour Convention  the government of Indonesia is obligated to provide emergency medical care, prompt medical assistance and evacuation of the seriously ill or injured crewmembers, regardless of Covid-19. Covid-19 restrictions should not be used to deny seafarers the right to medical care and treatment or the obligations of countries under international law," ITF Maritime coordinator Jackie Smith said.

The  SUR expresses its gratitude to all those who spent the last 48 hours without sleep or rest rescuing the Russian seafarer. He finally got access to medical treatment to which he is fully entitled. Without the support of the Indonesian Seafarers ' Union, the Indonesian Embassy in the UK, the Russian Ambassador in Indonesia, the ITF, ILO and IMO, it might not have worked.

No any country should use the current coronavirus crisis to ignore its obligations to provide urgent medical care to any seafarer in need, - Yuriy Sukhorukov is convinced. The fact that the Indonesian authorities literally "kicked off" the seafarer, refusing medical assistance, is simply monstrous. Following their logic, in the conditions of coronavirus all ill crewmembers should be wrapped in canvas, lashed a stone at their feet and thrown overboard. Yet this country has ratified the Maritime labour Convention and the Maritime search and rescue Convention.  Someone should bear resposibility in regard with the situation with a Russian seafarer. We are not putting an end to this story.

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