The International Maritime Organization (IMO) yesterday highlighted the plight of seafarers on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic on this year’s annual Day of the Seafarer.
Day of the Seafarer is celebrated each year on June 25 as a way to raise awareness about issues facing the maritime industry. This year the IMO chose the theme “Seafarers are Key Workers” to campaign for Member States to designate seafarers as key workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis for ship crews as government-imposed travel and port restrictions have hampered the ability for the shipping industry perform regular crew changes, leaving seafarers stuck at sea for months past their employment contracts and creating serious health and safety issues.
“Seafarers are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, playing an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies. However, the crisis has led to difficult working conditions for seafarers, including uncertainties and difficulties about port access, re-supply, crew changeovers and repatriation,” the IMO said in a statement.
“This year, the Day of the Seafarer campaign calls on Member States to recognize seafarers as key workers – and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic,” the IMO said.
Each month more than 100,000 seafarers are subject to crew change in order to comply with international regulations governing safe working hours and crew welfare. Although some countries have moved to facilitate crew changes, an estimated 400,000 seafarers remain impacted by the restrictions.
“Just like other key workers, seafarers are on the front line in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need – and deserve – quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during the pandemic, but at all times,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in his Day of the Seafarer message.
Not everyone was in the mood to celebrate, however. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), whose member unions represent 1.4 million of the world’s seafarers, decided not to celebrate due to the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the high seas.
“Today is not a day for celebration. Today is a day for sombre reflection on how seafarers continue to be let down when they deserve so much more,” the ITF said in statement.