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Crisis for trapped crew, as IMO and ITF call for governments to act now

International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary general Kitack Lim has called on governments to take action to help seafarers trapped at sea thereby avoiding a humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile the International Transport Workers Federation has lost patience with the efforts to persude governments to allow crew repatriation and have taken matters into their own hands, with a plan to help crew to reach their homes independently.

Speaking at Capital Link’s tenth annual Digital Operational Excellence in Shipping Forum, on 16 June 2020, Lim implored governments to take action to help more than 150,000 seafarers who have been unable to leave their ships since the Covid-19 crisis began, some of whom have been at sea for 15 months, six months over the agreed International Labour Organization time limit.

“I implore Governments to do more, today. This cannot wait.  This is now a real safety issue, endangering the safe operation of ships. We cannot expect seafarers to stay at sea forever.  Governments must allow shipping to continue moving by getting seafarers to their homes, and to their ships to work.

Lim went on to say that last week, the United Nations’ secretary-general Antonio Guterres joined the IMO’s call for action, asking all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as ‘key workers’ and to ensure crew changeovers can safely take place. Since then some crew changes have taken place, notably in Singapore and Hong Kong.

However, Lim said the spread of the virus has created an unprecedented situation, adding that in this critical period it is crucial that shipping services and seafarers are able to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and food, which are central to the global response to the pandemic.

“It is, therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted. At the same time, the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment must also remain paramount,” said Lim.

The secretary general went on to say, “I have personally endorsed the crew change protocols which have been developed by industry bodies to ensure safe crew changes. It is imperative that Governments implement these protocols, allowing stranded seafarers at the end of their contracts to repatriate and others to join ships and replace them.”

Transport unions have now lost patience with the process and have initiated their own repatriation system for what they estimate to be 200,000 stranded seafarers.

“The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliated seafarers’ unions will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home,” said ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel.

The ITF has said that it and its affiliated unions will now take the issue into their own hands and assist seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.

“Some seafarers have been onboard for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family,” said Heindel.

Lim added that the pandemic has revealed that shipping serves as the prime mover of goods and is therefore at the very heart of any global recovery from its medical and economic effects.

Nick Savvides
Managing Editor

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