IMO has echoed shipping industry calls for governments to keep shipping and supply chains open and grant special travel exemptions to seafarers in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as seafarers are "on the front line” of the pandemic
In a circular issued on 30 March 2020, the organisation prepared a list of recommendations for governments and national authorities, proposed by representatives of the maritime transportation sector.
The circular suggested that governments designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality, as ’key workers’ providing an essential service.
Key workers are among the only workers who are able to carry out their jobs with as little restriction as possible as governments across the world impose lockdowns.
Regarding crew changes, the IMO circular suggests seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave a ship.
In addition, it calls on governments to permit seafarers to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
Last month, IMO secretary general Kitack Lim said it is "crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted."
Mr Lim restated that the situation needs a "practical and pragmatic approach” to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.
In the circular, the secretary general referred to the G20 summit on Covid-19 on 26 March where leaders committed to continue working together to facilitate international trade and co-ordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
The leaders pledged to "work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people."
IMO events have been rescheduled or cancelled as the pandemic continues. Meanwhile the crisis has seen as a rise in telecommunications as concerned seafarers seek to remain in contact with their families.