Remember, We rely on seafarers to deliver.
Seafarers already work in an environment of isolation and for months at a time. In the past they had the respite of shore leave in places they visited and the expectation of repatriation at the end of their service on ship. Not now. In very many cases they find themselves in a “no man’s land” confined to their ships and having to extend their service unable to get relief crews out or flights home.
“This pandemic is unprecedented, and our primary concern should be the well-being of the seafarers. We should work together to find creative and cost-effective solutions to bring them home safely. Countries that might have been expected to show leadership in upholding international conventions that facilitate movement of seafarers have shown themselves insular and have not stepped up to the task. Yet other nations have shown how it can be done effectively. Their have been some surprises.
Every month around 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from ships worldwide to comply with safe working hours and crew welfare.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80 percent of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage, and the International Transport Federation which speaks for two million seafarers, have issued a bipartisan call for action to:
1. Designate a specific and limited number of airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crew.
2. Redefine seafarers as key workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, lifting national restrictions designed for passengers and non-essential personnel.
3. To deliver their commitment to keep supply chains open by taking urgent measures on the issue.
Seafarers need to be supported and enabled in the essential role they play in our societies so that the human factor does not fail and make the recovery stage from this pandemic more difficult. These are avoidable “own goals.”
In the Port of Rotterdam a chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers, an international Christian charity, tells first hand of the anxieties of seafarers he visits and how local school children wrote thank you cards to be delivered along with other gifts to crew of ships in port. In Australia when the cruise ship Ruby Princess was docked in the Port Kembla the local people showed humanity and support along with the Mission to Seafarers and the Apostleship of the Sea. These people understood.
Governments need to step up and facilitate ship crew changes.
Exact figures vary but it is estimated that around 150,000 seafarers are in need to repatriation right now. Action is needed urgently.
As Queen Elizabeth II said in a rare broadcast this Easter: “I hope that in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.”