The heads of the maritime, labour and aviation organisations of the United Nations, including the International Maritime Organization, have issued a plea for urgent action on crew changes and for keyworker designation so that sea and air workers can be relieved and repatriated in a safe way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This comes as a relief to thousands of seafarers across the globe. In India a country known for producing high ranking reputable seafarers, great concern was on what the influence of lack of crew change and turnover would lead to after the covid 19 pandemic.
India Already risks incurring the wrath of the global shipping industry and losing out to rivals such as China, the Philippines and Ukraine on seafaring jobs as the government dithers on a strategy to evacuate thousands of crew stranded on board ships at overseas ports, some of them several days after their contracts have ended. This challenge is also experienced in African countries that are new in this type of trade and trying to establish roots.
In a joint statement, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) advised that from the middle of June 2020, approxiamtely 150 000 seafarers a month will require international flights to ensure crew changeovers can take place. Half of these seafarers need to be repatriated home by aircraft while the other half will be joining ships.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, large numbers of seafarers have had to extend their service on board ships after many months at sea, unable to be replaced or repatriated after long tours of duty. This is unsustainable, both for the safety and wellbeing of seafarers and the safe operation of maritime trade.
“For humanitarian reasons – and the need to comply with international safety and employment regulations – crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely,” the statement said. “We are seeking the support of Governments to facilitate crew changes, operations essential to maintain the global cargo supply chains and operations related to humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights.”
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During the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, travel is being curtailed to prevent spread of the disease. Some ports and airports remain closed due to travel restrictions, with ships and aircraft denied entry, and/or have introduced restrictive measures for foreign nationals travelling to or from the country. As a result, seafarers around the world are stranded onboard ships, unable to be repatriated home or replaced by relief crews.
The three organisations urge ‘key worker’ designation for seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, aviation personnel, air cargo supply chain personnel and service provider personnel at airports and ports, regardless of nationality. Governments are urged to exempt these personnel from travel restrictions, to ensure crew changes can be carried out and that they have access to emergency medical treatment and, if necessary, to facilitate emergency repatriation.
The joint statement says governments and relevant national and local authorities should implement already-agreed guidance, issued by ICAO, IMO, ILO and the World Health Organization (WHO), including that on keyworker designation. This includes permitting seafarers, marine personnel, fishers and offshore energy sector personnel to disembark and embark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purpose of crew changes and repatriation and implementing appropriate approval and screening protocols.
Early this month, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim endorsed a series of protocols developed by a broad cross-section of global maritime industry associations to ensure that ship crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Close to 80% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport, which is the lifeblood of the global economy, and is dependent on the more than 1.5 million seafarers.