COVID-19: IMO Sec-Gen stresses vital need to maintain maritime commerce, crew change

International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim stresses the vital need to maintain commerce by sea and protect seafarers’ welfare in face of COVID-19 outbreak.  Maritime transport carries around 90 percent of world trade, so it is vital that governments facilitate the continuing operation of shipping and crew changes in ports.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

To slow the spread of the disease and mitigate its impacts, governments around the world are curtailing travel and closing borders.  Transport hubs are affected, ports are closed and ships denied entry.  As governments are implementing policies and measures, it is important that these are developed without obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers for the purposes of crew change, as well as the wider functionality of port ecosystems. 

Ships and ports need to remain fully operational in order to maintain complete functionality of supply chains.  Authorities should therefore engage with relevant stakeholders to discuss arrangements for the continued facilitation of international maritime trade, including port hinterland connections.

IMO Sec-Gen Kitack Lim said: “In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and foodstuffs, will be central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic.” 

He said that it is crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted.  Sec-Gen Lim also emphasized that seafarers’ safety and crew change movement should be taken into account by authorities.

“We must also remember the hundreds of thousands of seafarers on ships.  They are, unwittingly, on the front line of this global calamity. Their professionalism ensures that the goods we all need are delivered – safely and with minimal impact on our precious environment. These are people, usually far from home and family. Their own health and welfare is as important as that of anyone else.

“Again, I urge a practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.” 

Together with the World Health Organization, IMO has been developing and issuing practical advice and guidance on a variety of technical and operational matters related to the coronavirus.  For example, below are the recommended measures to facilitate crew changes in ports.

Governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to

  • Designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality when in their jurisdiction, as “key workers” providing an essential service.
  • Grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships.
  • Accept, inter alia, official seafarers’ identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer, as evidence of being a professional seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes.
  • Permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.
  • Implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.
  • Provide information to ships and crews on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice.

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