The world’s reliance on maritime transport makes it more important than ever to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, and to support ship crew changeovers, the United Nations maritime and trade entities said in a joint statement.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates shipping, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which tracks world trade, reiterated calls for Governments to promote crew well-being by allowing crew changes and ensuring seafarers and other maritime personnel have access to documentation and travel options so that they can return home safely.
It is estimated that starting in mid-June 2020, as many as 300,000 seafarers a month will require international flights to enable ships’ crew changeover – about half will travel home by aircraft for repatriation while the other half will join ships, and 70,000 cruise ship staff are waiting for their repatriation. This process is currently hampered by travel restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, to comply with international safety and employment regulations, and also for humanitarian reasons, crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely. Access to medical care for sick or injured crew and to medical prescriptions must also be provided.
IMO and UNCTAD also reaffirmed the urgent need for “key worker” designation for seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, and service personnel at ports. Governments and relevant national and local authorities must recognize that these workers provide essential services, regardless of their nationality and should exempt them from travel restrictions when in their jurisdiction. “Such designation will ensure that the trade in essential goods, including medical supplies and food, is not hampered by the pandemic and the associated containment measures,” the joint statement said.
“We emphasize that, for trade to continue during these critical times, there is a need to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, while at the same time ensuring that border agencies can safely undertake all necessary controls. International collaboration, coordination and solidarity among all is going to be key to overcoming the unprecedented global challenge posed by the pandemic and its longer-term repercussions,” the joint statement said.
Looking beyond the current situation, IMO and UNCTAD urged governments to pursue collaborative efforts to identify and remove any unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery and to facilitate maritime transport and trade in these difficult times.
They encouraged pragmatic approaches, such as granting exemptions and waivers where necessary and appropriate. Efforts should be made to facilitate electronic means for ship-shore, administrative and commercial interactions. There should be effective sharing of pre-arrival information and other COVID-related reporting requirements for ships; and provision of adequate equipment and resources to customs and border control stations in ports.
Lessons could be learned for the future. The joint statement points out that, in the longer term, some of the measures to confront the COVID-19 crisis may offer other important benefits, for instance encouraging further investment in digitalization and advancing efforts to improve ships’ energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.
Maritime transport is dependent on the 2 million seafarers who operate the world’s merchant ships, which carry more than 80% of global trade by volume. Sea transport moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components, and is vital to sustainable development and prosperity.
Crew changeovers are essential for the continuity of shipping in a safe and sustainable manner. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has endorsed a series of protocols developed by a broad cross-section of global maritime industry associations to ensure that ship crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.