The crew change crisis caused by COVID-19 restrictions continues to cause challenges, despite some improvement in the numbers, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has warned.
In a statement, Secretary-General Kitack Lim said that based on industry analysis, the numbers of seafarers requiring repatriation after finishing their contracts had declined – from a high of around 400,000 in September 2020 – to around 200,000 as of March 2021, with a similar number waiting to join ships. However, this number could rise again. But the crew change crisis is far from over. Importantly, issues around vaccination need to be resolved.
Now, more than ever, seafarers need to be designated as key workers to ensure priority vaccination and access to safe transit and travel, Lim said.
“One year ago, as the world plunged into the COVID-19 crisis, I spoke of our voyage together and the need for collaboration and cooperation. I am glad to say that over these past 12 months, we have worked intensely with many different stakeholders to address challenging conditions.
“The maritime sector has continued to deliver the vital supplies that people need. Seafarers have worked tirelessly, at the heart of this trade, to keep goods flowing. Despite difficulties with port access, repatriation, crew changes and more, there can be no denying that seafarers have gone beyond the call of duty.
“Hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been forced to work long beyond their contracted time. We have estimated that throughout the last months of 2020 and up to the beginning of this year, 400,000 seafarers still needed to be repatriated, with a similar number needing to join ships,” Lim said.
The IMO scribe said due to concerted efforts by governments, shipowners and others, the figure is now estimated at 200,000 seafarers needing repatriation and a similar number needing to join ships.
He said one of the major achievements of last year contributing to this was the adoption of the United Nations Assembly resolution calling on UN Member States to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers and to implement relevant measures to allow stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships, and to ensure access to medical care.
“But we cannot be complacent. Fewer than 60 countries so far have heeded our call for seafarers to be designated as key workers. More countries need to do so if we are to resolve this crisis and ensure seafarers are treated fairly and so that their travel to and from their place of work is properly facilitated. There is still a long way to go before we are back to a normal crew change regime.
“As vaccination is rolled out in many countries, I urge governments to prioritise seafarers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes.
Governments should also identify and prepare for the challenges of the vaccination of seafarers who spend long periods of time away from their home countries. We need to continue to work together to develop relevant protocols and guidance around vaccine certification,” he added.