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.
In a Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6 issued on 30 March 2020, the Organization has distributed a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector.
The Circular Letter specifically calls on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as ‘key workers’ providing an essential service.
Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional 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 ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
The circular letter reiterates earlier calls made by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, who said it was “crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted.”
He took the opportunity to repeat his own statement that seafarers are “on the front line of this global calamity” and that the situation needs a “practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.”
The Circular Letter confirms that, in this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade, transport and services moving.
It calls on governments around the world to develop their policies and measures to protect public health and address COVID-19, without introducing obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers and marine personnel. Governments and national authorities are strongly encouraged to ensure that all visiting commercial ships continue to have access to berths in port and terminals.
In the Circular Letter, the Secretary-General referred to the outcome of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 on 26 March 2020, in which the G20 leaders committed to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate 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.”
The circular mentions that as Governments around the world are implementing policies and measures to protect public health and address COVID-19, it is important that these are developed without the introduction of obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers and marine personnel (as defined, inter alia, by relevant IMO instruments or the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006) for the purposes of crew change, as well as the wider functionality of port ecosystems (terminals, warehouses, rail and trucking, etc.).
Ships and ports need to remain fully operational in order to maintain complete functionality of supply chains.
Governments and their relevant national authorities should therefore engage with appropriate stakeholders within their national shipping and ports sectors to discuss arrangements for the continued facilitation of international maritime trade, including port hinterland connections.
This message highlights the importance that is attached to the global supply chains and keeping it open especially if the nations who are on lockdown want to ensure the supply of essential goods that are required..
The circular also makes mention that it is important for Governments and national authorities to ensure that all visiting commercial ships continue to have access to berths in port and terminals, and that quarantine restrictions are not imposed on the ship itself which prevent access to a berth and the timely discharge and/or loading of cargoes or other critical activities..
The circular is also recommending that seafarers and marine personnel are designated as “key workers providing an essential service” and grant them the appropriate exemptions for travel or movement restrictions so that they may join or leave ships..
This is of course subject to implementation of appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.. The circular also calls for these key workers and the ship to be provide with information on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice.
Is your country already following or about to follow this especially when you are under lockdown with COVID-19..?? Let’s take a quick survey shall we..??