A 45-year-old seafarer aboard a large cargo ship began to show signs of suffering a stroke, in mid-April, the ship’s captain was immediately alerted.
The next day, the seafarer’s condition worsened. He seemed confused, his speech was laborious, he had pain under the left shoulder and his left arm and leg were paralysed. The captain knew he needed to act – and fast.
Global Voyager Assistance, a remote medical assistance provider, confirmed the stroke diagnosis. But the ship was more than 220 km from the nearest port, and the port authorities rejected initial appeals for emergency medical assistance, due to COVID-19 restrictions in place. Despite repeated requests from the vessel’s captain, the seafarer’s national trade union and that of the country the ship was headed for, the ship could not enter port.
After several hours of intense discussions, the ship initially received confirmation that the vessel could enter port so that the critically ill seafarer can be rescued.
However, that decision was reversed just six hours before the ship was due to arrive, and the captain was advised to set course for another port, in a different country, over 600 km away.
The clock was ticking. The captain insisted and made a further request to obtain medical evacuation for the seafarer, so that the critically ill seafarer can be rescued but that second attempt was also rejected by the authorities, including immigration and a local COVID-19 Task Force – again due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was then notified. It called on two UN agencies, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), to intervene urgently at government level to ensure international conventions were respected so the seafarer could receive the immediate required medical attention.
IMO and ILO swung into action quickly. As a result, the medical evacuation was finally authorised and a police vessel was dispatched to evacuate the seafarer.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has made several calls for seafarers to be designated “key workers” in the current crisis, and for severe transport restrictions not to be applied. “Seafarers’ own health and welfare are as important as those of anyone else,” he said.
Notably, IMO has established an internal team to help resolve individual cases, often working alongside other organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). Since the beginning of the crisis, this dedicated team works around the clock – contacting representatives from national governments, NGOs, trade unions or relevant associations, or orienting seafarers towards the right organisation, to find solutions.