German government, unions aid repatriation of seafarers

With no clear pandemic containment strategy, a cruise company transferred thousands of seafarers from other ships onto a single ship to await repatriations.  However, there was an outbreak onboard and everyone was quarantined.  With support from the German government, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliate are able to quickly and orderly start repatriation of seafarers who are healthy and have finished their quarantine.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

After passengers disembarked the cruise ship Mein Schiff 3 on 23 Mar, the ship company transferred seafarers from several of their other ships onto the Mein Schiff 3 and sailed to the German port of Cuxhaven in order to commence repatriations.  The ship docked in Cuxhaven on 28 Apr.  However, on 30 Apr an outbreak of Covid-19 was detected on board, leading the company to quarantine everyone on the ship.

15 crew members who exhibited Covid-19 symptoms were tested and nine came back positive.  The infected seafarers were quarantined, but unfortunately, due to the lack of a clear pandemic strategy from the company prior to transferring about 3,000 seafarers from six different ships on to Mein Schiff 3, the crew were unnecessarily exposed to the pandemic.

Maya Schwiegershausen-Gueth from ITF affiliate in Germany ver.di assisted by the German ITF Inspector Hamani Amadou were finally able to assist repatriation of approximately 1,200 of the 2,900 seafarers on 8 May.

“It has been extremely frustrating and infuriating that neither the company nor the flag state have taken their responsibility seriously.  The seafarers are desperate to return home and they have a right to do so.  Luckily the German government has been supportive throughout, without their assistance and the help from the mission, the situation could have quickly escalated on board,” said Schwiegershausen-Gueth from ver.di.

Repatriation flights have chartered for Ukrainian (168), Indonesian (738), Turkish, Tunisian, Mauritian and Chinese crew members to go home.  More charter flights are planned next for around 1,200 seafarers from the Philippines, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Sadly 192 Indian seafarers remain on board without any prospective travel date and limited support from their government.

The German Government, ITF affiliates ver.di and Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine, the German seafarers’ mission and the ITF Inspector all work together on facilitating the repatriations.

However, the ITF reiterated the need for companies and flag states to be more responsible for their seafarers and treat them with the basic respect they deserve.

“The heart-breaking report over the past two weeks of crew members ending their lives while waiting to be send home underlines how important certainty is for the tens of thousands of seafarers currently awaiting repatriation. We urge governments globally to follow the lead of Germany and act now and get seafarers home,” said ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith.

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