Thursday, October 8, 2009


(As published in the Gomantak Times dated 23.09.2009)

A delegation of Goan Seamen Association led by their president J S D’Silva called on Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik at his residence at Margao recently, demanding that seamen who work onboard ships sacrificing their family life working in harsh conditions with total dedication be paid monthly pension of reasonable amount to lead a decent life upon their retirement.
Water Resources Minister Filipe Neri Rodrigues was also present on the occasion.
Other members of the delegation included its general secretary Ivor D’Souza and treasurer Ifrone Dias.

A related article which appeared earlier on GT…

[Retired seafarers at the meet]


Two years ago, at a meeting at NUSI Maritime Academy, Assolna, Abdulgani Serang, General Secretary of NUSI had assured Goa’s retired seafarers that their Monthly Ex-gratia Monetary Assisitance of Rs. 200/- would be enhanced to Rs. 1500/-. That promise is yet to be fulfilled.

WALTER MENEZES attends a meet in Quepem and finds the likes of Pepino D’Silva of Assolna and Ivor D’Souza of Cansaulim stepping up efforts to seek redressal of a long pending grievance.

Date: September 03, 2009
Place: Parish Youth Hall, Holy Cross Churh, Quepem

They who once braved the seas for months together and worked in hostile conditions, braved the inclement weather and made their presence felt at the meeting convened in Quepem to demand enhancement in the Monthly Ex-gratia Monetary Assistance (MEMA) being paid to retired seafarers and widows of deceased seamen. After Assolna and Cuncolim, this was the third meeting to be organised and evoked good response. MEMA is one of the schemes of the Seafarers’ Welfare Fund Society headed by the Director General of Shipping and whose initial corpus was formed by way of wage differential (between the international wage and Indian wage) received from foreign shipowners for seafarers.

“We organised the meeting at short notice. However, over 100 retired seafarers and widows of deceased seamen attended the meeting. A few came from as far as Canacona and Macazana,” said Evangelisto D’Costa, a former tarvotti who provided the ground support for the Quepem meet and alongwith Erone Fernandes, made all the arrangements. The meeting which was addressed, among others, by Ivor D’Souza, who is also the President of A R Souza Ferrao Cultural & Charitable Trust, Urselino Almeida, former Assistant Secretary, National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) and Pepino D’Silva, was also attended by a few young and active seafarers.

(Pepino D'Silva addressing meet)

“Our first goal is to demand enhancement of MEMA from a paltry Rs. 200/- to Rs. 5000/- even as we seek to organise our tarvotti brothers under the umbrella of All Goa Seamen’s Association (AGSA),” Ivor informed but hastened to add that this was in no way an attempt to float a separate union. For the time being, his office at Grande Madel, Margao will double up as the temporary hub of AGSA activities, he also announced.

In the absence of a regular pension, life has been a hard grind for many retired seafarers. Being the only bread winners, most of the money that was earned during their service onboard various vessels was utilised for the upkeep of the family back home and what little was invested, was not invested wisely. “There are instances of abject poverty where, upon the death of a seafarer, there was no money to even buy a coffin. Finally, the panchayat had to come to the rescue to make arrangements for the final journey,” Steven Dias, an elderly seaman from St. Estevam, now settled in Majorda, disclosed.

“We have never really organised ourselves,” lamented Joaquim Fernandes, a seafarer from Sonarbhat, Quepem who has recently retired. Juzinho Cola├žo, another retired tarvotti from Condy, Quepem told this writer, “After sign-off, most of us Goans head straight home and do not take any interest in the affairs of NUSI. If we had, there would have been a pension scheme to cover us in our old age.”

This perhaps explains why many consider MEMA to be a pension scheme, which it is not. “There is no communication from the union to the members,” Ivor reminded the gathering, as a result of which seafarers were in the dark of any developments taking place or the launch of new welfare schemes for their benefit. The NUSI website too needs to be improved. No finer details of the schemes of Seafarers’ Welfare Fund Society are available on their website although mention is made of educational institutions, health centers and recreational facilities established by NUSI.

Interestingly, NUSI has evolved into the kind of organization it is today out of the efforts of a few sailors, whose names are no longer available, who established Goa Portuguese Seamen's Club way back in 1896, as also Khansaheb Mohamed Ebrahim Serang and Dr. Leo Barnes who fought for the betterment of the seafarers of India.

A random google-search for ‘monthly ex-gratia’ led me to discover that apart from MEMA, a few other schemes are also available to the retired seafarers under the Seafarers’ Welfare Fund (see box).

Gist of Welfare Schemes
• Monthly Ex-gratia Monetary Assistance (MEMA) amounting to Rs.1,200/- on half yearly basis to the foreign going registered seamen and / or to eligible dependents.
• Adhoc Ex-gratia Financial Assistance to widows of Foreign going seamen @ Rs. 5,000/- and Rs. 3,000/- to a widow of Home Trade seaman.
• Educational Scholarship to children, dependent brother / sister of the serving seamen and to children / dependent of the beneficiary under Monthly Ex-gratia Assistance.
• Exgratia Assistance @ Rs.40,000/- on death to the widows / dependents of deceased foreign going registered seamen while off articled period.
• Gratuity payments to seamen / dependents after retirement.

So, what is the next step? “The enhancement in the MEMA scheme will not come easily. We will have to do a lot of spade work,” Ivor informed. In the coming days, representations highlighting the plight of retired seafarers will be placed before the MPs from Goa, officials in the Ministry of Shipping and the PMO, he disclosed. “Two years ago, during a meeting convened by Churchill Alemao and held at the NUSI Maritime Academy, Assolna, Abdulgani Serang, General Secretary, NUSI had assured that the ex-gratia amount would be enhanced to Rs. 1500/-,” Evangelisto D’Costa recollected. That promise is yet to be fulfilled.

In the meantime, for hundreds of retired seafarers and widows of deceased seamen, life means living on the shores of hope!