The maritime shipping sector faces a humanitarian crisis, says the IMO (International Maritime Organisation).
The sector moves more than 80 per cent of global trade and is a crucial component of the global economy. As a direct result of Covid-19, this sector, and in particular the seafarers who drive it, are facing severe challenges in making the necessary crew changes. This is due, among other reasons, to restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports; quarantine measures; reductions in available flights; and limits on the issuing of visas and passports.
Because seafarers have continued working after their contracts have expired, ports have remained open for trade, allowing cargo operations to be carried out in a timely manner and goods to continue to circulate smoothly. The world owes a great debt to seafarers for maintaining supply chains throughout the pandemic, says the IMO.
Actions taken by many governments that limit or prevent ship operators from conducting crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade. This has created a humanitarian crisis, with approximately 300,000 seafarers trapped working aboard ships who cannot be repatriated, and an equal number of unemployed seafarers ashore because they are unable to board ships.
While many states have responded to calls for action, the rate of crew changes continues to be far below what is needed to avert a humanitarian disaster that will also affect the safety of shipping, the protection of the marine environment, the continuation of efficient trade and the recovery of the world economy, says the IMO.
The joint statement, signed by bodies such as the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), plus many more, calls on all governments to immediately recognise seafarers as key workers, and to take swift and effective action to eliminate obstacles to crew changes.
The statement thus requests that all United Nations member States undertake actions including:
- designating seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ providing an essential service, to facilitate safe and unhindered embarkation and disembarkation from their ships;
- undertaking national consultations involving all relevant ministries, agencies and departments, to identify obstacles to crew changes, and establish and implement measurable, time-bound plans to increase the rate of such crew changes;
- refraining from authorising any new extension of seafarers’ employment agreements beyond the default maximum period of 11 months, in accordance with the MLC, 2006;
- facilitating the diversion of ships from their normal trading routes to ports where crew changes are permitted;
- accepting internationally recognised documentation as evidence of their status as key workers and that the purpose of their travel and movement is to undertake crew changes.
- increasing access to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers, and airports in reasonable proximity to seaports where crew changes are affected. Where scheduled commercial flights are not available, authorise landing slots for chartered flights, or include seafarers on other repatriation flights for citizens and permanent residents;
- and many more.
IMO’s statement seeks to bring the competent authorities together to act.