A dozen countries have have committed to facilitate crew changes and achieve key worker designation for seafarers, following a virtual ministerial summit hosted by the U.K. government on Thursday, marking progress to help resolve a growing crisis facing the maritime industry, and enable hundreds of thousands of stranded seafarers to go home or join ships.
“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,” representatives from 12 countries said in a joint statement expressing their concern about the current crisis.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and border closures imposed by Governments around the world have caused significant hurdles to crew changes and left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded onboard ships, or unable to join ships. It is currently estimated that at least 200,000 seafarers worldwide are stranded on ships and require immediate repatriation, and a similar number urgently need to join ships to replace them. This has led to a growing humanitarian crisis, in addition to concerns that seafarer fatigue and mental health issues may lead to serious maritime accidents. There are also concerns about the continuity of the global supply chain.
IMO Secretary-General Lim applauded the pledge, by signatory countries of the joint statement, to encourage all IMO states to designate seafarers as key workers and to implement the Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, which were endorsed and circulated by IMO in May. The joint statement also recognizes the importance of considering the possibility of waivers or exemptions from visa or documentary requirements for seafarers, and to help increase access to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers.
Opening the summit, Lim highlighted the importance of implementing the Protocols designed to ensure safe crew changes and called for concrete action for seafarers. “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,” he said.
The joint statement was signed by representatives from Denmark, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States of America.
The International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes was hosted by the United Kingdom Government and was also attended by representatives from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and Maritime UK.
U.K. 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.”
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 seven-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.”