About four thousand Bangladeshi sailors and staff have remained stranded on ships in different countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic even though sea transportation remains operational.
Additionally, 156 sailors, officers and staff of six ships of the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC) are stranded in different countries, said the Department of Shipping.
Even though the contracts of many sailors and staffers have expired, they are unable to return to the country as airways have remained closed due to Covid-19.
BSC authorities have instructed the mariners to stay on their ships until the airspace is reopened, the government's Mercantile Marine Office said.
Meanwhile, the families of the stranded sailors are living in uncertainty back in Bangladesh.
Five Bangladeshis have remained stranded at a Somali port for a long time. Of the 23 employees on the ship of a Dubai-based company, the other 18 are Indian nationals.
Due to Covid-19, they have not been able to enter Somalia, nor have they been able to return to Bangladesh by air.
Of them, Second Officer Atiqul Islam had a five-month contract with the ship authorities, but he has had to stay on the ship for nine months now due to the Covid-19 situation.
Ali Akbar, in charge of the able seamen of the ship, said, "Our ship is a chemical tanker. We boarded the ship on September 15, 2019 from Chennai port in India and left for Oman. Now we are at a port next to Somalia.
"I have not been able to return to the country even after my contract expired. We are stuck on our ship due to the closure of international flights."
He urged the government to arrange special flights for sailors to return them to the country.
Mohammad Zakir Hossain Chowdhury, shipping master of the Mercantile Marine Office, said sailors and crew of various vessels were stranded in different countries due to Covid-19. "We are in regular contact with them, and they are also communicating with their families."
Captain Jamal Hossain Talukder, general manager of the BSC, said, "They would be brought back if the air route was opened. I instructed them to stay on the ship. I contact them regularly."
A sailor of BSC's ship, on condition of anonymity, said, "Many of our colleagues whose contracts have expired are suffering more. They are stranded on ships in different countries as airspace across the world is closed. They cannot even go to that country [outside which their ship is anchored] due to Covid-19."
Mohammad Gias Uddin Ahmed, Principal Officer of the Department of Shipping, said, "We are allowing Bangladeshi sailors to sign out of the ship."
However, foreign sailors are not allowed to do that. Earlier, they signed out of the ship and left Bangladesh by air, but now they are not able to do so. Additionally, they have to submit the results of a Covid-19 test within 72 hours, even if the air route is resumed.