Establishing a port welfare committee in India: a case study from ISWAN

Joseph Chacko with Crew in Kandla, India Joseph Chacko with Crew in Kandla, India Seafarers Trust

Establishing a port welfare committee in India

We asked Joseph Chacko, the Administrator of the port welfare committee in the Port of Kandla in India to tell us about its establishment and development.

What steps did you take to create the Kandla’s port welfare committee?

“ First of all, Dr Suresh Idnani, Regional Coordinator International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare (ICSW) and I met in Mumbai and discussed the need for a centre at the Port of Kandla. In August 2007 Dr Idnani came to meet the stakeholders and the first port welfare committee meeting was held. Bodies represented include the Kandla Port Trust, the Transport and Dock Workers’ Union, Jaisu Shipping, the Kandla Stevedores’ Association, Kandla Steamship Agents’ Association, St. Thomas’ Catholic Church and a prominent local medical doctor.”

In November 2008, with the support of ICSW, we submitted a grant application for equipment and a start-up fund to ITF Seafarers’ Trust which was approved and a bank account opened. In February 2009 we held the second meeting of PWC Kandla to discuss the use of funds.

In April 2009  the Centre for Seafarers opened at premises kindly provided by Jaisu Shipping. The third PWC meeting finalised details of vehicle, equipment and staff selection. In May 2009 and onward: the PWC was formally inaugurated and welfare activity for seafarers began. The Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association was registered in the District of Kutch as a public trust and a charitable society, and recognised by the Income Tax Department of the Government of India. Training of existing trainee Ship Visitors and Voluntary Ship Visitors began.

What makes the PWC work?

“Total love of seafarers, love of social work, dedication, humility, willpower, transparency in financial matters, managing the trustees, managing the staff, computer knowledge, relationships, information management, publicity management, and mainly the grace and fear of God.”

What does the PWC do?

“We provide human contact, spiritual encouragement and assistance with communications. We have a fully furnished centre with two computers, a web camera, multimedia speakers, a headphone with mcrophone, and a laser printer. There’s a wi-fi system so seafarers can bring their laptops and use the internet. International telephones are provided, both for Indian seafarers and others to use (we also provide the MtS international telephone card). There is a library and reading room with magazines and print-outs of daily international newspapers. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks are provided.

We have an air-conditioned bus to transport seafarers from the ship to the centre and back, free of charge.

We visit ships daily with our WiMax equipment and the WiFi router. Photos of our visits are uploaded daily to our Facebook page ‘PWC Kandla’.
The port control tower officials inform ships arriving at the port of Kandla about our welfare services and the pilot takes leaflets about us on board.

Can you tell us about your biggest challenges?

“We have three main challenges.

The first is recognition of our identity. When we visit ships, seafarers do not recognize the ICSW name. (They tend to know the names of the ITF and the Seamen’s Club or Mission.)

The second is some of the shopkeepers and business people of the Port of Kandla. They fleece seafarers by charging high prices and they also spread rumours (mostly concerning money) about us so that some ships do not let us on board.

Our third challenge is probably common to many. Fewer seafarers come to our centre because of ships’ faster turnaround time and because shore passes are not issued to seafarers from China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for security reasons. We are now trying to provide seafarers with all the centre’s facilities but on board ship.

What are you particularly proud of?

“We are very proud that the ICSW Regional Programme in South Asia declared that the welfare activities at the Port of Kandla were a role model for other ports.

We are also very proud of our WiMax equipment and the WiFi router. These convert both officers’ and crew mess rooms and adjoining cabins into a WiFi zone, allowing up to 25 seafarers at a time to use their laptops to access the internet. We usually leave the WiMax on board overnight, for use by seafarers who were working during the daytime. The captain or the local agents take responsibility for the safety of the equipment. I haven’t heard of a similar facility at other ports so it may be unique.”

What sort of feedback have you had from seafarers?

“We measure seafarers’ satisfaction with the services primarily by the joy that we see on their faces when we visit them and the satisfaction we see when we leave the ships. Also when we see them communicating with their family members and their near and dear ones. We have seen them crying and smiling many times.

We have received more than 200 letters of appreciation and thanks from captains of different ships. We also keep receiving calls from seafarers when they know the next port of call is Kandla: they call to ask us to visit their ship immediately when it arrives at the port.

Seafarers have also started informing their own company owned ships about our services. Ship agents call us when they see that seafarers are in need.”

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