Crew change crisis is far from over, says IMO

The crew change crisis caused by COVID-19 restrictions continues to cause challenges, despite some improvement in the numbers, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization has warned.  

In a statement, Secretary-General Kitack Lim said that based on industry analysis, the numbers of seafarers requiring repatriation after finishing their contracts had declined – from a high of around 400,000 in September 2020 – to around 200,000 as of March 2021, with a similar number waiting to join ships. 

However, this number could rise again. But the crew change crisis is far from over.  Importantly, issues around vaccination need to be resolved. 

Now, more than ever, seafarers need to be designated as key workers to ensure priority vaccination and access to safe transit and travel, Lim said.   

“Thanks to concerted efforts by Governments, shipowners and others, this figure is now estimated at 200,000 seafarers needing repatriation and a similar number needing to join ships. 

“One of the major achievements of last year contributing to this was the adoption of the United Nations Assembly resolution calling on UN Member States to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers and to implement relevant measures to allow stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships, and to ensure access to medical care.  

“But we cannot be complacent. Fewer than 60 countries so far have heeded our call for seafarers to be designated as key workers. 

“More countries need to do so if we are to resolve this crisis and ensure seafarers are treated fairly and so that their travel to and from their place of work is properly facilitated. There is still a long way to go before we are back to a normal crew change regime.  

“As vaccination is rolled out in many countries, I urge Governments to prioritize seafarers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs.”   

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