UK Plans Summit to Address Crew Change Crisis
The U.K. government announced Thursday it will host an international summit next month to address crew change challenges caused by the COVID-19 health crisis.
Led by U.K. Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, the virtual event will bring together UN, political and business leaders from across the globe to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the global shipping industry, and what governments and industry must do to protect the welfare of crew workers around the world. Secretary General of the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) Kitack Lim is expected to highlight the humanitarian need to safeguard workers across the seas and states’ duties to repatriate workers swiftly.
Due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on countries around the globe, with many shutting down borders, it is now estimated there are more than 1.2 million seafarers at sea at any one time and currently 200,000 seafarers due to change over, including up to 2,000 from the U.K.
“Seafarers have worked tirelessly during this pandemic to ensure people across the globe can access the essential food, medicine and supplies we all need, but thousands have been left with no way of coming ashore when faced with border restrictions,” Tolhurst said.
“This government has helped more than 7,000 crew get home back to their loved ones across the world, regardless of nationality or circumstance.
“I hope that this meeting will be a reminder of the international collaboration required by all states to bring people home.”
Many crews have had their contracts extended but this is not a long-term solution, with many seafarers on board a ship for months despite having had no contact with coronavirus and posing no risk.
To ensure their swift repatriation, and to safeguard workers’ mental health, Tolhurst wrote to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the start of the outbreak on March 23 pressing that all states follow the U.K.’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment.
The U.K. has remained open for seafarers to come and either stay on vessels, go ashore, take shore leave or be repatriated, abiding by PHE requirements and social distancing.
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, said, “We welcome the announcement to hold a virtual summit on this critical crew change issue. The fragile supply chain and global trade is now at threat of logjam due to government inaction and bureaucracy. Government leaders must cut through the bureaucracy, lift the continuing imposition of travel restrictions on these key workers and focus on this issue now. The solutions do not need money; they do not even need complicated negotiations, this is simple. The leadership provided by the U.K. to cut through this red tape is just the sort of initiative that is needed to free the thousands of seafarers who are trapped onboard ships across the world.”