Seafarers say enough is enough – ready to down tools

seafarers crew changeIf getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers.

This is the message from Steve Cotton General Secretary of ITF reiterating that Seafarers have done their part in this COVID-19 pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough, it is time to go home now.

The comment comes amidst a backdrop of difficulties that seafarers have been facing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new approach, which could be highly disruptive to global trade, comes after insufficient action by governments to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’, exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions and facilitate the repatriation of around 200,000 seafarers who have been caught up in the crew change crisis, said ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair Dave Heindel.

We are sending a very strong message to seafarers: you have selflessly extended and extended your contracts to do your part to keep critical supplies flowing around the world during this pandemic,

Some seafarers have been onboard for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic, many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family,” said Heindel


The issues that they are dealing with are plentiful – exhaustion, stress, financial difficulties, poor mental and physical health, among others.

Until now, governments, including major ‘flag states’ that certify and issue licences to the world’s shipping and cruise fleet, have relied on ‘force majeure’, or classifying the pandemic as an act of God, to suspend mandatory international maritime regulations and extend seafarers’ contracts.

However, the ITF will not accept this stance anymore. They have recognised the desperate plight of these over 200,000 seafarers worldwide and is committed to ensuring necessary crew exchanges.

In a message to seafarers, the ITF said on Monday, “Enough is enough, crew change now!

They reiterated, “You have the right to return home. While many countries have slowly started to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions after 2-3 months of lockdown and are now reopening stores and services and allowing people to meet friends and families, hundreds of thousands of seafarers (you) worldwide remain stuck on board, unable to go ashore, seek medical attention or return home.

Many of you were on board for 6-10 months and now an additional 2-3 months because you had to extend your contracts due to travel restrictions and a lack of flights. Despite all the support from the shipping industry and the United Nations and their agencies, you continue to be treated as second class citizens.

You are the same seafarers that governments have hailed as “key workers” vital to the global supply chain and the delivery of essential materials and goods.

There are a few countries that have taken the lead and positioned themselves as crew change hubs. The ITF has been working with Canada’s Chamber of Shipping and regulator Transport Canada on new Covid-19 protocols so seafarers can “transfer to and from airports, hotels and ships”.

Seafarers
Image Credit : The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN)

Critically, crew leaving ships will not require visas or to quarantine as they pass through Canada, while the relieving crew will not need to quarantine on their way to the ship. Seafarers from countries that still require a visa will be able to apply online and receive confirmation by email.

Seafarers signing on or off in Hong Kong will not need to quarantine or obtain special permits in order to board or disembark on their way home. Hong Kong’s authorities stress that shipping companies or their agents should arrange for seafarers to get to and from the vessels with as little community interaction as possible.

Among the flag states, Cyprus has announced its special crew change protocols. Shipping Deputy Minister Natasa Pilides said, “Facilitating crew changes is crucial to protect seafarers’ wellbeing & international trade. The transport of essential goods to people who need it is now more important than ever.”

Over 35,000 Filipino seafarers are expected to return after being displaced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has tried to restrict the number of repatriations daily, with many Filipino seafarers still stuck on cruise ships in Manila Bay and unable to come ashore.

In Europe, the United Kingdom’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called on the government to push for crew change implementation across the world. TUC head Frances O’Grady said her country should, “lead the international effort to facilitate crew changes and create ‘safe corridors’ that allow free movement for seafarers.

While there are still many gaps with respect to safe crew exchanges worldwide,  the efforts by the ITF and regions such as Canada and Hong Kong come as a glimmer of hope and a welcome relief to seafarers.

crew change seafarers - shipping and freight resourceITF President and Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin reiterated the repeated warnings given to governments from unions and industry of this unfolding humanitarian crisis:

We have urged them on the consequences of tired, fatigued, depressed crew – to trade, to the environment. We have worked with industry and the international community to offer solutions.

But enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home. No more contract extensions.” said Crumlin.

Cotton said all that governments need to do is make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions, and allow these key workers to transit through their territories and return to their families.

A few small changes by national governments would allow seafarers to get home, and be relieved by a fresh crew, he said.

“If a seafarer wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honour their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation.

If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers.

Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough.”

*** End of Article ***

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