12 countries came together on the 9th of July to work effectively towards the crew change crisis by signing a joint statement to fast track crew changes around the world and aim to designate the status of ‘key-workers’ for seafarers. This took place at The virtual International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes hosted by the government of the UK.
An estimation reveals that almost 200,000 seafarers are stranded all over the world, awaiting repatriation, while a similar number are desperately looking for a return to their jobs. The restrictions on travel and border closures due to COVID-19 has led to what can be called a growing humanitarian crisis.
Fatigue and consequences of extended work-tenure onboard has been known to cause grave mental health issues to seafarers, often leading to maritime accidents. The action signed by the representatives of the USA, UK, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Netherlands, Indonesia, Greece, Germany, Philippines, and Denmark sought to look for sustainable measures for the welfare of sea workers. Tours of duty are to be marked at not more than 12 months, as per the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006)
International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Secretary-general Kitack Lim embraced the pledge and emphasis o the importance of implementing the Protocols that would allow strong actions to be taken for the welfare and return of seafarers. The protocol was initially circulated and supported by the IMO in May 2020 that included provisions for waiver and exemptions of visas, access to international flights to and from principal countries of the seafarers.
Current maritime operations take place with the absence of about 80% of the workforce. In order to keep the global supply chain alive and running, the protocol also writes measures and procedures that ensure that ship crew changes are carried out safely during the pandemic.
The summit was opened by the Secretary-general remarking, “It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew wellbeing 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,”
The primary aim of the signed pledge is to speed up repatriation for the relief of crews, globally. Some of the urgent mentioned efforts include:
• recognizing seafarers as ‘key workers’, accepting their international seafarer documents as legal proof of such if necessary;
• implement as far as possible the maritime industry’s agreed protocols for safe crew change
• amend quarantine restrictions as needed to exempt seafarers;
• explore together with the aviation industry suitable flight options for safe crew travel.
The joint statement has also led to the realization that the lesson of the outbreak of the pandemic could be used to create international protocols by working in conjunction with relevant authorities and agencies to help accelerate shipping operations and remain equipped to enable seafarers to work as an essential employee in the case of a future occurrence of a global pandemic.
Reference: imo.org | gov.uk