As travel restrictions sweep across the world, global trade has never stop, thanks to the 1.2 million seafarers working on ships. This commitment to transporting supplies of food, fuel and goods, including vital medical supplies, has enabled governments to focus on containing the pandemic in their countries. What is lacking, however, is the ability of countries to allow crews to safely rotate on and off ships at ports and return home to their countries of origin. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports
Global maritime organizations and shipping leaders have urged António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, to persuade his 193 member states to act urgently to avoid a humanitarian crisis. There are over 200,000 tired, mentally-stretched seafarers currently stuck working on vessels across the globe and unable to be relieved of their duties.
In a joint letter, leaders of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Trade Union Confederation and International Transport Workers’ Federation, urged the Secretary-General to ensure governments are adopting the 12-step set of crew change protocols issued by the UN’s own maritime regulator, the International Maritime Organization.
The letter explains that the seafarers are experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and have reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue.
“Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”
As the seafarers face exhaustion at the helm of critical supply routes, the clock is ticking for governments. The industry had previously agreed to two contract extensions beyond the usual regulated period for time onboard due to Covid-19, but the leaders say this is “not a sustainable solution.”
“Time is running out. We ask action be taken immediately, ahead of 16 June 2020 – the final agreed deadline to implement crew changes for our seafarers.”
Guy Platten, Secretary General of ICS, said while a limited number of crew changes has occurred, there is a pressing need to increase the speed and scale at which governments adopt the crew change protocols.
“Every day that governments fail to adopt these protocols, and fail to enable crew changes, they neglect to recognize the sacrifice made by seafarers on behalf of their populations.”