Seafarers will get enhanced rights as key workers following a joint commitment made at International Maritime Summit held on July 9, 2020.
Representatives from over a dozen countries including Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Philippines and the USA attended the summit. They agreed to new international measures to open up foreign borders for seafarers and increase the number of commercial flights to expedite repatriation efforts.
The international maritime virtual summit on crew changes took special note of the obstacles affecting ship’s crew changes, the impact on the well-being of seafarers, and the impact that any failure by governments to resolve these issues will have on maritime transport, which must be permitted to continue to operate safely and efficiently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summit, hosted by the United Kingdom’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, brought together members of the UN with political and business leaders from across the globe. The difficulties maritime crews face across the world was at the centre of the discussions, while all governments and parties were urged to resolve the issues with maritime transport to support workers and the industry more widely.
Following points were acknowledged and discussed, as a matter of urgent concern:
- that the inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade.
- at least 200,000 seafarers are estimated to require immediate repatriation, with many serving on extended crew contracts who are overdue to return home, in addition to a similar number of seafarers that urgently need to join their ships in order to allow the world’s internationally trading vessels to continue to operate safely.
- seafarers’ tours of duty cannot continue to be extended and need to be kept to a duration of less than 12 months, as set out by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, as amended – the global shipping industry estimates that, since March 2020, only about 25% of normal crew changes have taken place; apart from the humanitarian and crew welfare concerns, and issues of regulatory compliance, there is an increasing risk that fatigue and mental health issues could lead to serious maritime accidents.
- the complexity of facilitating ship’s crew changes, regardless of the seafarers’ nationality, requires concerted action as well as access to commercial flights to the principal seafarer countries of origin and those countries where crew changes take place.
- that the health and well-being of seafarers is paramount and is inextricably linked to the continuing safety and efficiency of ship operations.
- that the uncertainty around a possible second wave of COVID-19 underscores the need for swift actions without further delay to allow crew changes and to avoid further consequences to the already fragile global supply chain, which relies on goods transported by ships.
- that the lessons learned during the COVID-19 outbreak be used to create international protocols in partnership with the maritime industry and the regulatory agencies, to provide practical instruments to facilitate shipping operations and enable seafarers to perform their essential role, in case of a future global pandemic.
United Kingdom’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “throughout this pandemic, seafarers have played a crucial, though sometimes unseen, role in keeping vital supplies flowing into the country. It is unacceptable that there remain thousands of people stranded at ports around the world and we owe it to them and their families to change things.”
“Today marks a new chapter for seafarers and, alongside our international partners, we are taking a stand to end the bureaucracy preventing men and women around the world from returning home,” he added.
Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst said, “I am deeply concerned about how the global crisis has affected crew changes across maritime transport.”
“I called today’s summit to turn the tide on the struggles seafarers have faced during this crisis and through today’s commitment we will speed up repatriation for crews globally,” she added.
In conjunction with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and Seafarers UK, the UK government has also announced a programme to support seafarers in UK shores with mobile internet routers – MiFi units – on board ships where hundreds of seafarers are still waiting to return home. This will give hundreds of seafarers free internet access on board.
Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, Kitack Lim said, “It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew well-being should not be compromised. The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us, for the world economy and for the safety of life at sea and the environment.“
“To ensure their swift repatriation, the Maritime Minister wrote to the International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization at the start of the outbreak on 23 March pressing that all states follow the UK’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment,” he added.
Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping Guy Platten said, “Globally there are now over 200,000 seafarers who are stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts. These forgotten heroes of global trade work 12-hour days and 7-day weeks to make sure those of us on land have the food, medicine and fuel we need during this difficult time.”
“This summit is a welcome show of political leadership at a time when seafarers across the world need it most. Governments must now use this summit as a catalyst to implement with the solutions the shipping industry has provided, applying the political will needed to put them into practice. This issue doesn’t require money and did not need complicated negotiations. This summit is a catalyst for action, he added.”