In a significant move, the Government has made it mandatory for members of the Crew (Seaman and Tindal’s) to carry passports before travelling abroad from June 1, withdrawing the over four decade-long exemption that they were enjoying.
Members of the Crew, Seaman and Tindal’s of sailing vessels were so far exempted from the mandatory requirement of a passport on the condition that they hold identity card or vessel has permit under the Sailing Vessels (members of crew) Rules, 1967 under a notification issued on September 25, 1968.
The External Affairs Ministry has noted that as per provisions of the Passport Act, 1967, no person shall depart from, or attempt to depart from India, unless he holds a valid passport or travel document.
However, as per the Gazette Notification issued by the Government of India in 1968, in view of the functional requirement of seamen's foreign travel, the Members of the Crew, Seaman and Tindal’s of sailing vessels [holding identity cards or permits, under the Sailing Vessels (Members of Crew) Rules, 1967] were exempted from the mandatory requirement of holding passports before travelling abroad.
As per this provision, seamen could travel abroad,on their work, on the basis of their identity card.
"The above provision has been reconsidered by the government and it has been decided to withdraw the above facility with effect from 01.06.2015. A copy of the Gazette Notification dated 16.03.2015 is annexed," the Ministry of External Affairs said.
Hence, in view of the above, all Indian citizens, who are Members of the Crew, Seaman and Tindal’s of sailing vessels are hereby informed to obtain passports for their international travel, even when sailing out to other ports.
All passport issuing authorities in India and abroad have been requested to extend their full support in expeditious issuance of passports to such applicants, as per the MEA.
Sailors already at work on the sea may face problems if they do not secure the passports by May end, though the Foreign Ministry has said that all passport issuing authorities in India and abroad have been told to extend full support in expeditious issuance of passports to such applicants.
All Indian missions abroad are empowered to issue the passports and hence Indian seamen of any vessel landing at a port can rush to these missions to get the passport made.
Since many seamen may not be well-versed with English, the notification has been also issued in Urdu, Tamil and Malayalam languages.
The government's move to make passports mandatory for fishermen travelling to international waters has drawn mixed reactions from the fishermen community.
T Peter, national secretary of the National Fish Workers' Forum said the new rule was draconic. "India's exclusive economic zone extends up to 200 nautical miles, which is around 360km. When they say we need a passport to go beyond that, we would also like to know who would issue the visa."
Such a rule should also properly define what good it does to fishermen, said Charles George of Kerala MatsyaThozhilaliAikyavedi (TUCI). "Will it give an assurance that they will not get arrested if they happen to cross borders? Also, there should be a provision to carry a duplicate as we will be going to deep water territory. There is no guarantee that we can keep it safe," he added.
"If their aim is to keep a check on vessels travelling abroad, what we need is automated information systems capable of providing information about a ship to other ships and to coastal authorities, not passports," said general secretary of All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators' Association Joseph Xavier Kalappirackal.
The reason provided by the Government was in general and in “public interest” in the notification for withdrawing the facility that was previously granted in view of the functional requirement of a seamen's foreign travels.
We assume that one of the reasons for the removal of this provisions is to have tighter security over the vast coastline that is permeable to a large extent. Either way, we will have to watch how this pans out over the coming weeks and implementation of this provision will be a tall task as the Passport issuing Offices across the country are already burdened with pending applications where a Passport takes a couple of months to issue.
Let’s hope for the best.