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Crisis looms for trapped crews warns IMO

The Maritime sector is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis the International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary general told permanent representatives of the United Nations body, which met virtually this week.

Kitack Lim was speaking on the day that the Hong Kong authorities finally relented to pressure from the Hong Kong Ship Owners’ Association (HKSOA) who had been pressuring the government to establish rules that will allow crew changes to be made.

According to figures from a number of sources there are around 150,000 crew employed on vessels at any one time, and while the Covid-19 outbreak has been spreading across the globe those crew were unable to disembark their vessels and head home as fear of spreading the virus took hold of governments.

Hong Kong’s initiative is a welcome breakthrough, but their effort must be matched by other authorities so that these key workers are allowed some respite.

Lim said this week, Governments need to urgently act to ensure ships’ crew can be replaced with fresh seafarers and that world trade will continue to flow.

“We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and a real safety issue - we cannot expect seafarers currently on ships to stay at sea forever. It is the responsibility of Governments to allow shipping to continue moving, and for seafarers to return to their homes, or get to their ships to begin work,” added Lim

Seafarers contracts as well as any extensions have expired and they need to be replaced by a similar number, since travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have severely hampered crew changes. crew changeovers.

Meanwhile, Lim thanked countries that have made progress by designating seafarers as key workers and facilitating crew changes through the implementation of protocols that were endorsed by IMO, easing travel restrictions including the issuance of passports and visas, and  giving seafarers access to medical care.

The Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association (HKSOA)’s successful lobbying of government in one of the world’s major ports will be a welcome boost for the campaign to recognise vessel crews as key workers,

However, Lim said, “I remain very concerned about countries where restrictions are still in place for seafarers.”

The protocols for crew change and repatriation were drawn up by ICS, IAPH, BIMCO, IFSMA, INTERTANKO, P&I Clubs, CLIA, INTERCARGO, InterManager, IPTA, IMCA, INTERFERRY, FONASBA, ITF, and WSC. They also take account of input from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

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