Standing up for stranded seafarers on UN Human Rights Day

400,000 seafarers are currently stranded on ships beyond the end of their original contracts and unable to be repatriated.

UN Human Rights Day puts the global spotlight on the importance of human rights in the post-COVID recovery. IMO is highlighting the plight of the hundreds of thousands of seafarers who are still stranded at sea and has issued a strong call for their fundamental rights to be respected.

It is estimated that 400,000 seafarers are currently stranded on ships beyond the end of their original contracts and unable to be repatriated, due to COVID-related travel restrictions. Some have now been working at sea for over 18 months, well beyond the 11-month limit set out in ILO’s Maritime Labor Convention (MLC). A similar number of seafarers are stuck at home, unable to join ships and provide for their families. 

In a statement issued on Human Rights Day (10 December), IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim invited everyone in the logistics and supply chains to stand up for human rights across the maritime sector. “Sadly, we have seen human rights of seafarers, fishers and other marine workers put in jeopardy during the pandemic,” Sec-Gen Lim said. “This is a clear human rights issue. This is causing immense strain, fatigue and exhaustion and is unsustainable.” 

People in the maritime sector have been on the frontline during the pandemic, delivering food, medicines and essential goods across the globe. However, seafarers cannot stay at sea indefinitely. The Secretary-General warned that failure to protect the rights of seafarers, fishers and other marine personnel will jeopardize the safety of shipping and have a detrimental effect on global supply chains. 

On Human Rights Day, IMO is calling on all Governments who have not already done so to designate seafarers and marine personnel as key workers, with all the related priorities for travel, transit and vaccination this entails, and to safely allow seafarers to travel, using  recommended crew change protocols.

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