Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, called on all countries on Friday to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers, warning that travel restrictions to combat the coronavirus had left hundreds of thousands stranded at sea for months.
“Unable to get off ships, the maximum sea time stipulated in international conventions is being ignored, with some seafarers marooned at sea for 15 months,” Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
About 90% of world trade is transported by sea but lockdowns in many countries to stop the spread of the coronavirus have disrupted supply chains, especially for ship owners who rely on the free movement of crews to keep ships moving.
In April, the International Chamber of Shipping association (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)told the Group of 20 major economies that there were 1.2 million merchant sailors out at sea at any point, with 100,000 crew members needing to be rotated each month.
Guterres is concerned about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers, Dujarric said.
“The world could not function without the efforts of seafarers yet their contributions go largely unheralded; they deserve far greater support at any time but especially now,” Dujarric said.
U.N. agencies have worked with the ICS and ITF to develop protocols for crew changeovers and Guterres called on all governments to urgently implement them to allow stranded seafarers to go home and others to join ships, he said.
The new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, has infected some 7.5 million people globally and more than 421,000 have died.
The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.