Commemorating Seafarers Day


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[Mumbai, 05 December]History was created with His Excellency Mr Julio De La Guardia, the Ambassador of Panama to India, inaugurating 'Seafarers Day' at Lokhandwala in Andheri, Mumbai on December 5. The first Saturday of December has been now established as 'Seafarers Day'; the event this year was tinged with emotion with the wife of a seaman appealing tearfully to the Government of India to have her husband released from unjust imprisonment in Algeria.

Apart from recognising the immense contributions of seafarers to the world and generating awareness amongst the young of the nation, the event had been staged to assemble the shipping community and raise industry voices in unison for the speedy release of the innocent Indian sailor Sakhib Abdul Hamid Sakharkar, who is languishing for the last 15 months in an Algerian jail facing criminal charges for a crime he has not committed.

A distressed and an emotional Mrs Sakharkar appealed to the gathering to extend their full support in liberating her husband from Algeria. 'I wish that the pain and suffering my family and I are going through never happen to you or your dear ones. Today, I plead with the Government of India and the shipping community to take necessary and immediate action to help in releasing my husband, held for crimes he has not committed,' said Mrs Sakharkar.

The 2 km walk-a-run displayed colourful placards inscribed with slogans such as 'Down with Piracy,' 'Up with the environment', and 'Stop Criminalisation of Seafarers'. Over a thousand people representing different age groups participated in the event.

Capt. Kamal Chadha, the Chairman of the Seafarers Day Action Committee, was very vocal about the unfair detention of seafarers abroad. He said, 'Apart from Sakharkar, there is the case of Capt. Glenn Aroza who is detained in Taiwan for over 7 months now, accused of causing the death of fishermen. But this is patently against the UN Law of the Seas.'

'The Government of Taiwan is under intense pressure from the fishermen's' lobby there and is behaving in an arbitrary fashion. We in India urge our Government to use diplomatic channels to have Capt. Aroza returned to India, as he is not likely to find justice in Taiwan. The right Government to conduct any enquiry into the incident would be Panama, the vessels Flag State.'

Capt. Chadha continued. 'This tendency to throw seafarers into prison whenever the political pressure mounts in the offended nation is rising to dangerous proportions, giving seafaring a bad name,' he added.

Meanwhile, piracy grows by the day with hundreds of seamen held to ransom by Somali, Nigerian and Indonesian pirates. 'Cargo ships carrying gas, coal and petroleum being hijacked are a serious threat to India's energy supply lines; the Indian Government must take note that in the absence of naval cover on the high seas, seafarers find themselves willy-nilly on the frontline, securing the nation's vital energy supply lines against pirates and terrorists.

'All said and done, seafarers need to be accorded official Government recognition for the risks they take in their work. Official recognition of this, the Seafarers Day and the recognition of seafarers' contributions to the nation would be a fine start,' Capt. Chadha felt.

The event saw the participation of a vast assemblage of over a thousand persons representing seafarers, their families and supporters of all ages, seafarer unions, associations, and training institutes. A similar event was simultaneously staged in Chennai.

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