Large foreign shipping boats: Maldivian mariners on boats of foreign shipping companies are losing jobs because of government negligence. Image courtesy: Alan J . Shaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Maldivian seafarers unable to work as govt fails to issue permits

The request of the seafarers is that the transport ministry should act swiftly and provide them with the necessary documents.

18 May 2023

Many Maldivian seamen have lost their jobs unable to obtain the Seafarers Identity Document (SID) and Seaman Book that are to be issued by the transport ministry under the international treaties signed by the Maldives.

SID is a necessary and international identity card for seafarers to access ports and ports around the world. The Seaman Book is used as a passport by seafarers and describes the knowledge, experience, and quality of their journey.

The unemployed seamen have shared their concerns with Atoll Times on Thursday as they have not been able to get these documents that every boat crewman should have.

The seafarers pointed out that locals were finding it difficult to travel without these documents and brought it to the notice of the ministry nine years ago.

"... For the last nine years since 2014, there have been a series of meetings between senior officials of the transport ministry and officials of crew recruiting agencies, and the [International Labour Organisation] has made several requests for release of SID and Seaman Books in accordance with the ILO convention, but this has not happened," the seamen said.

According to them, the lack of documents has caused a lot of inconvenience and damage to their lives and careers:

  • They are found to be unqualified for the work

  • They are kept in custody for attempting to journey without the documents

  • Fines are imposed on the owner and crew of the boat

"Without these important documents, it would be impossible for local seamen to find jobs in foreign shipping companies," the boaters said.

As they pointed out:

  • Now, agencies sending seamen abroad have also come to a temporary halt 

  • They can't travel international routes again unless they have SID

They said many countries can no longer enter political borders without these documents, as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention to protect the rights of workers stipulates that there should be an SID to show the authenticity of seafarers.

Due to this:

  • Maldivians who are currently working on boats may not be able to return to the Maldives and are stranded abroad for a long time.

  • Families of these stranded seamen who could not disembark to any port without SID cannot do anything even in an emergency.

"In the future, the problem will only get worse and it will soon be difficult for Maldivians working on ships bound for countries close to the Maldives," they said in writing.

If the issue is not resolved quickly, they say, it will have a cascading effect on the families of commuters who are struggling to meet their living expenses and the closure of an industry where a lot of foreign exchange is flowing into the country's economy.

The request of the seafarers is that the transport ministry should act swiftly and provide them with the necessary documents.

"And since this is a national issue, the government should also look at ways to bring in administrative procedures and processes in accordance with international requirements," they said.

Atoll Times tried to get a response from the ministry, but there was no response so far.

The Maldives signed as a member state of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 1967, which is attended by 175 countries.

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which the Maldives is required to ratify as a member of the organization, was also ratified after the country was added to the IMO's whitelist in 2015, according to the seafarers.