Friday, July 10, 2020

Praise for UK Government Summit to Repatriate Seafarers Stranded by the Pandemic

Now We Wait for Action
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – There was a chorus of support from shipping industry stakeholders for the International Maritime Summit hosted by the UK government yesterday. Representatives from over a dozen countries including Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Philippines and the US attended and agreed to grant enhanced rights as key workers to seafarers.

The principal object of the meeting was to try and assist the tens of thousands of crew who have been stranded away from their homes, sometimes for many months. Despite the crucial role they play restrictions on international travel have left thousands of seafarers stranded at foreign ports with some confined to vessels for vastly extended periods, despite having no contact with coronavirus.

The summit, hosted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, brought together members of the UN with political and business leaders from across the globe. Kitack Lim, UN Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), also gave a special address, saying:

“It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew wellbeing should not be compromised. The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us, for the world economy and for the safety of life at sea and the environment.”

The UK has remained open for seafarers to come and either stay on vessels, go ashore, take shore leave, or be repatriated, abiding by Public Health England requirements and social distancing but this has not been the case in many countries. Mr Lim was supported by Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Guy Platten, who said:

“Globally there are now over 200,000 seafarers who are stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts. These forgotten heroes of global trade work 12-hour days and 7-day weeks to make sure those of us on land have the food, medicine and fuel we need during this difficult time.

“This summit is a welcome show of political leadership at a time when seafarers across the world need it most. Governments must now use this summit as a catalyst to implement the solutions the shipping industry has provided, applying the political will needed to put them into practice. This issue doesn’t require money and did not need complicated negotiations. This summit is a catalyst for action.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) all strongly supported the promise to act, welcoming the joint statement, with ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder calling on all IMO member states to support the implementation, whilst colleague said Corinne Vargha, Director of the ILO’s International Labour Standards Department thanked UK ministers Grant Shapps and Kelly Tolhurst for a ‘timely initiative and the opportunity to share the ILO perspective’.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton represented the global federation’s one million seafaring members at the meeting, having repeatedly warned that if governments failed to act to bring in practical exceptions for seafarers, and support more humanitarian flights being available, then there would inevitably be serious risks for the wellbeing of seafarers, for maritime safety, and for critical supply chains. He said:

“We thank those countries who came together today for their commitment, and now call on those ministers and officials who signed on the dotted line need to head back to their countries and follow through on these critical pledges by bringing in practical exemptions and waivers that allow seafarers to move freely to enable safe crew changes and repatriation to their home countries.

“What we want to do is remind all governments that while your predominant focus is on responding to the economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, after months of this crew change crisis getting worse, governments must do their bit. That means that port states where ships dock, flag states where ships are registered, transit hubs with airports and the home countries of seafarers, all need to make visa, quarantine and border exceptions for seafarers now, not tomorrow, not next week.”

The summit heard UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps praise seafarers for the crucial, sometimes unseen, role in the supply chain and said the current situation was ‘unacceptable’, whilst fellow host Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst said how deeply concerned how the crisis had impacted the stranded thousands saying the urgent need for their repatriation had spurred in to calling for the summit. The industry will await to see how widespread and when the promised actions will be in place to alleviate the situation.