Quick Action by Indonesia Saves Seafarers’ Lives

The quick and enlightened response of the government to recognize seafarers as key workers helped saved many lives. 

As a response to the crew change crisis, the Indonesian government had worked on regulations and policies to assist them; among the first was recognizing seafarers as key workers. 

Without undermining the hardships faced by other professions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is safe to say that seafarers are among the most impacted. 

During the crew change crisis, which is still happening now, seafarers are stranded on ships, while their safety and health continue to be at risk.  Hundreds of thousand seafarers are facing an incomprehensible uncertainty while waiting to be repatriated or to join ships. 

Adoption of IMO resolution

With support and prompting by international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations General Assembly ultimately issued a resolution on 1 December 2020 which calls for countries to designate seafarers as key workers. 

In addition to encouraging governments to immediately take concrete measures in solving the issue of seafarers stranded at sea and those unable to join ships as a result of travel restrictions, the resolution emphasizes the need for governments to ensure the availability of medical care for all personnel at sea.

As Indonesia led the coalition of 71 countries to propose the draft to the assembly, it has also established several regulations at home to ensure a safe work environment for the country’s seafarers who are already or will be working in foreign vessels.

Eva Trisiana, Director-General of Placement and Protection of Overseas Migrant Workers at the Ministry of Manpower, said that as a commitment to recognize seafarers as key workers, the Ministry has been collaborating with related ministries to ensure proper health protocols are upheld for seafarers.

“The Ministry of Manpower has been coordinating with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and Ministry of Transportation to ensure the implementation of COVID-19 health protocols, as regulated by the World Health Organization, for seafarers who are going to work in foreign vessels, both through sign-on or via ports in Indonesia that accommodate crew change,” Trisiana told Maritime Fairtrade.

Prior to that, back in July 2020, the government had also issued a ministerial manual to regulate the placement of Indonesian migrant workers during the so-called new normal.

Seafarers prioritized for vaccination

Currently, Indonesia is in the second phase of vaccination which targets 38.5 million people, including people aged 60 years and above, public officials, and workers who run public services. 

This phase started in the third week of February and is expected to be finished by May. While admitting that seafarers are among the prioritized groups to be vaccinated, Trisiana didn’t disclose an estimated timeline of when all seafarers are expected to be given the vaccination.

“The Ministry is prioritizing migrant workers, including seafarers, to be vaccinated. In doing so, we’re working and communicating with the Ministry of Health and the COVID-19 handling committee,” she explained.

Most recently, state-owned ship operator PT Pelni announced that 75 percent seafarers had received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Jakarta, with more personnel scheduled to receive theirs during this second phase.

Previously, the Indonesian Seafarers Union, or KPI, had asked the government to prioritize and carry out vaccination of seafarers, as they are already designated as key workers.

“Two years into the pandemic, and we haven’t seen the government taking our side in the vaccination program,” KPI chairman Mathias Tambing said in a statement earlier this month.

Commitment to crew change, repatriation

Beside vaccination, Indonesia shows commitment to resolve the crisis by assisting crew change and repatriation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In November 2020, the Ministry of Transportation issued a circular to facilitate crew change, repatriation, and port service during the pandemic, based on recommendation from the IMO.

The Ministry has opened a total of 11 ports to facilitate crew change and repatriation. The ports are Belawan, Tanjung Balai Karimun, Batam, Merak, Tanjung Priok, Tanjung Perak, Makassar, Benoa, Sorong, Ambon, and Bitung. 

Additionally, the Directorate General of Sea Transportation stated that in the event of a medical emergency, foreign seafarers are allowed to leave their ships to seek treatment, upon given permission by the local COVID-19 task force.

Meanwhile, the repatriation of Indonesian seafarers is ongoing. 27,505 seafarers have been repatriated as at 15 March 2021, according to data released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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