For last 15 months 46-year-old Anand Fernandes has stepped foot on land only once. A resident of Vasai near Mumbai, Mr. Fernandes was a crew member on the cargo ship Anastacia which was stranded at a Chinese port due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And though he finally returned to Mumbai four days ago and is desperate to meet his 12-year-old son, he will have to wait for two more days due to the mandatory quarantine for foreign travellers coming to Mumbai.
“I know I have to follow the rules. But imagine not meeting to your family for 15 months. It was mentally exhausting. Never in my two-decade long career, have I been away from my family for such a long period. We knew people from outside were helping us, but that feeling of uncertainty never left me,” Mr. Fernandes said, speaking to The Hindu over telephone.
Mr. Fernandes is currently being kept at a mandatory seven-day quarantine at a hotel in Andheri East. He can hug his family only after two more days.
Mr. Fernandes started his journey on Anastacia before the pandemic in November 2019 and the ship travelled to the U.S., Netherlands, South Africa, India, China, and Australia, However, the second trip to China resulted in the ship being stranded in Chinese waters as the pandemic scare prevented unloading of Australian coal. While food and water continued to be supplied through the company MSC, it was also corresponding with Chinese officials for the release of the crew.
“Our company MSC helped us a lot and even kept contact with our family members. But it was challenging for 18 of us onboard. Around 16 were Indians. Same location, identical faces and usual chores. We had to work on our mental health. We had to be careful to ensure nobody lost his control as we did not want any untoward incident on the ship,” said Mr Fernandes, who worked in the engine department of the vessel.
The crew kept their morale up, telling each other that this time will pass.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry also liaised with their Chinese counterparts and the issue was raised by local MLAs Hitendra and Kshitij Thakur and Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi. A petition on change.org also run demanding the return of the crew.
“I am thankful to all of them who thought about us and our family. Our company MSC crewing service and CO Prabhat Jha supported us throughout,” a relieved Mr Fernandes said.
After the successful negotiations with Chinese officials, the ship was then taken to Japan from where the crew flew to Dubai and then to respective cities of residence.
When asked whether he is planning his trip back on ship soon, Mr Fernandes laughed out loud. “I don’t think I will see the ship of next seven to eight months at least,” he said.