Despite a predefined sustainabilty theme, IMO and UN seek to push seafarer ’humanitarian crisis’ to the fore on World Maritime Day 2020
The UN and IMO have said seafarers trapped at sea for months, prevented from returning home by government travel restrictions and lack of key worker status designations are facing a ’humanitarian crisis’.
Resolutions, messaging and events from the global bodies are asking governments to urgently address the crisis as global government attention is focused on the UN’s annual general assembly.
"Hundreds of thousands of seafarers face a humanitarian crisis as they have been stranded at sea, unable to get off the ships they operate with contracts extended by many months," was UN Secretary General António Guterres’ message.
"This needs to be addressed urgently, through governments designating seafarers as essential workers and ensuring safe crew changes can take place."
The global coronavirus pandemic had not begun when IMO defined its theme of sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet for World Maritime Day 2020 in July 2019, but the UN Secretary General said the theme had gained "extraordinary resonance" with the impacts of the global pandemic.
"Shipping has continued to transport more than 80% of world trade, including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the Covid-19 response and recovery. The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the professionalism and sacrifice of the 2M seafarers who serve on the world’s merchant fleet," Mr Guterres said.
"Despite the unprecedented conditions brought about by the pandemic, seafarers have continued to tirelessly support the often invisible global logistics chain. Physically and mentally exhausted, away from their families and loved ones, their time at sea has now been extended far beyond the standards stipulated in international conventions, with some tours of duty now stretching more than 17 months. Fatigued seafarers cannot operate indefinitely, and disruptions to international shipping would have devastating consequences."
Mr Guterres linked the humanitarian crisis at sea with an increased safety threat brought about by and for exhausted seafarers, forced to work for months on end, many still with indefinite timelines on board vessels due to government inaction.
"I renew my appeal to governments to address their plight by formally designating seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers, ensuring safe crew changes and implementing the protocols developed by UN agencies, as well as the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships," Mr Guterres said.
IMO, too, has called on governments to take action. In an address following IMO Maritime Safety Committee’s adoption of a resolution urging action to facilitate crew changes, access to medical care and travel during the pandemic for crew, IMO Secreatary General Kitack Lim called on governments to raise the issues during the UN’s general assembly.
"Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely, in addition to the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by keeping them effectively trapped on their vessels, the safety issues that arise from overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers to continue operating vessels are a matter of great concern. If the crew change crisis is not resolved, ships will no longer be able to operate safely," Mr Lim said.
Alongside the UN General Assembly, IMO is bringing together representatives from maritime nations, UN agencies, multi-national corporations, shipowner organisations and seafarer labour organisations for its High-Level Side Event on COVID-19 and Maritime Crew Changes: A humanitarian, safety, and economic crisis.