400,000 seafarers stuck at sea as crew change crisis deepens

Besides the 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea, another 400,000 are unable to join ships.

Some 400,000 seafarers from across the globe are now stranded on ships, continuing to work but unable to be relieved, in a deepening crew change crisis which threatens trade and maritime safety.

During a high-level event on the margins of the recent United Nations General Assembly, Captain Hedi Marzougui, who was in command of a vessel between December 2019 and May 2020, appealed to Governments to act to allow seafarers to come home.

“Not knowing when or if we will be returning home brings a severe mental toll on my crew and myself,” Captain Marzougui said. “I would encourage each and every one of you to think of how you would feel, if you had to work every day, for 12 hours, with no weekends, without seeing your loved ones, and trapped at sea. Now add that you have to do that with no idea of when you will be repatriated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on travel and transit have severely impacted on seafarers.  Despite multiple pleas to Governments to designate them as essential key workers and to facilitate their travel, the number of seafarers whose contracts have been extended by several months has continued to increase. 

Some seafarers have now been at sea for 17 months without a break, well beyond the 11-month limit set out in the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC). Besides the 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea, another 400,000 are unable to join ships.

This threatens the fundamentals of ship safety standards which the IMO has worked to develop over six decades, Secretary-General Kitack Lim told the online event, which brought together leaders from major global businesses, the maritime industry, government, the UN and unions.

“Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue to operate ships,” Sec-Gen Lim said. “On more than 60,000 cargo ships which continue to deliver vital goods, foods and medicines, ship safety is hanging in the balance, just as seafarers’ lives are being made impossible. The safety of navigation is in peril.”

Sec-Gen Lim restated his plea to Governments: “Action is needed – and is needed now. We all depend on seafarers. They should not be the collateral victims in this pandemic. Seafarers deliver for us – and now we need to deliver for them.”

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