Pandemic brings out the best and worst of humanity

As the global cruise industry and seafarers’ unions near completion of the repatriation of almost 250,000 seafarers, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) warns that there are challenging times ahead for the industry and its workforce.  The ITF and its affiliated unions represent much of the global cruise ship workforce. 

Dave Heindel, Chair of the Seafarers’ Section of the ITF, says the pandemic has shown the best and worst of humanity.

“On the one hand we’ve seen governments shamefully shutting their doors to seafarers as port states, transit countries and even the home countries of seafarers when really they should have done everything within their power to get seafarers on cargo and cruise ships home. On the other hand, this pandemic has shown the best of unions and many employers who have tried their hardest for these seafarers in really difficult circumstances.

“We have nothing but respect and admiration for the seafarers. These are people who simply went to work and found themselves trapped aboard what some seafarers came to call their ‘floating prisons’, unable to come ashore even for a walk. We thank these seafarers for their patience and fortitude through an incredibly difficult time. 

Some seafarers have been overwhelmed by the situation, and some have tragically taken their own lives out of desperation. We are deeply saddened by these events, and although most of us have never experienced a situation like theirs, we feel for them and their families. Seafarers deserve solidarity and respect from the public for what they’ve endured during this pandemic.

“It is difficult to overstate the scale of the operation needed to get almost 250,000 seafarers home from cruise ships dotted around the world. The ITF family of maritime unions have been working round the clock since March to coordinate visas, flights and travel exemptions for seafarers to get home to their families.

“While this is a fantastic result in the cruise industry, we need to remember that there remain around 300,000 seafarers trapped working over their contracts aboard cargo vessels, some as much as 16 months.  Well over their 8-9 months as expected. This number is growing day-by-day. 

“The answer here is simple: governments have to make practical exemptions to restrictions on seafarers’ travel and transit so that we can see a return to functional crew changes. It is imperative that we get these hundreds of thousands of seafarers off their ships after their contracts have expired, just as we did in the cruise industry.” 

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