Apr 21, 2014

Everest Sherpas threaten boycott

Everest Sherpas threaten boycott. The Sherpa community has threatened to strike if their insurance levels are not doubled and more financial safety nets are put in place after 16 of their colleagues died in the worst accident Mount Everest has ever seen.

The Sherpas are the main breadwinners for their families in the extremely poor country and for years their relatives were paid minimal amounts if they died on the mountain.

As 13 men died and three remain missing yet presumed dead after a piece of ice broke lose early Friday when they were going to fix the ropes for international groups, the compensation rate is being revisited and many of the Sherpas are demanding action before they go back to climbing.

Government-mandated death insurance for the local guides hired to help bring adventurers and their gear up the harrowing mountain was recently raised from $4,600 to $10,400, but now they are threatening to stop climbing unless they get assurances that it will be boosted to $20,800.

The $4,600 death and accident insurance fee that had been the standard rate for years was never enough, and families regularly went into debt in order to give their loved ones a full Buddhist ceremony meant to speed up the soul's journey towards reincarnation.

That number was doubled earlier this year, but it has not addressed the continuing problems of inequality surrounding the Everest climbs: foreign groups and adventurers pay upwards of $50,000 or $60,000 to make the storied trek, but the Sherpas see very little of that money.

The Nepalese ministry of tourism gets a much larger cut, and now the Sherpas have demanded that a portion of the visa fees be set aside for a relief fund.

The government has issued 334 permits this season, up from 328 last year.

Outside Magazine reported last year that the Sherpas were set to receive other bumps in payments in early 2014, with their health coverage jumping from $575 to $4,000.

The rescue insurance, which goes towards helicopter fees when Sherpas fall or are incapacitated at high altitudes, went from $4,000 to $11,000- but that still did not cover the costs of an emergency ride which regularly costs somewhere around $15,000.

The Associated Press reported that the group's third and final demand in light of Friday's accident- calling for the creation of a monument in honor of the fallen Sherpas- is the only one that the government has already agreed to, but the others are still being considered.

'We will do what we can, keeping with the standard practice to provide compensation,' Deputy Prime Minister Prakash Man Singh said Monday.

They also want assurance that the government will bring regulations to protect them in the future.

'The government has made no big response even after a big tragedy like this. Until they hear our pleas we will continue to put pressure,' Sherpa Pasang of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association said, adding they plan to meet top government officials later in the week.

The role as a Sherpa has always been a dangerous one but the men are relatively well compensated: more experienced guides can earn upwards of $6,000 during the three-month busy season which begins in May. By comparison, the national salary average is closer to $700.

When tragedy strikes, the logistics and chains of responsibility when it comes to the hiring process also complicates the payouts.

Western groups typically hire expedition companies- many of which are based in America and Europe- which then hire trekking companies based in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu or closer to the base of the mountain.

In most situations, the government insurance is bought either in full by the local trekking company or is split between them and the larger- and typically more wealthy- touring company.

When it comes to Friday's accident, MailOnline exclusively reported at least five of the Sherpas were on the mountain after being hired by local trekking companies to work as the crew for Peacock Productions, a film crew associated with NBC who were preparing for a now-cancelled TV special.

Two of the fatalities were explicitly listed as being a part of the NBC Everest Expedition and three others were hired by Adventurist Expeditions, an Everest climbing company that the wingsuit jumper at the heart of the Discovery Channel special had previously worked with.

NBC and Discovery officials would not specifically state which sherpas or what tour companies the networks employed at Everest when MailOnline made repeated inquiries, but a part of the Peacock

Productions crew currently at Everest Base Camp did confirm that five members of their larger crew were among the fatalities.

The Peacock Productions crew had been working with Alpine Ascents International, a Washington state-based tour company who arranges Everest treks and works with different local Sherpa guides and groups.

MailOnline has been in touch with the company about the Sherpas they hired but the owner who is currently in Nepal was unable to return our calls due to the busy situation at base camp.

Six of the 13 dead bodies were cremated on Monday as part of an elaborate Buddhist ceremony in Katmandu that was attended by hundreds.