Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trade Unions Welcome Australian Decision to End Exemptions on Time On Board Ship for Seafarers

However Even More Could Be Done - and Sooner
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has announced that from 28 February 2021 the interim Covid arrangements which have permitted seafarers to serve longer than 11 months on-board ships will end. Under the Maritime Labour Convention that is the maximum period that a seafarer can serve aboard a vessel without leave.

The decision has been hailed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as a step in the right direction and Fabrizio Barcellona, the ITF’s Seafarers’ and Inland Navigation Section Coordinator, observed:

“We welcome the decision by AMSA. But this is only the start of the action we need by port states to help resolve the crew change crisis and set clear expectations for the global shipping industry.”

However, he was scathing about some of the actions taken by AMSA in its handling of the crew transfer crisis, adding:

“It is unacceptable to continue to ignore the crew change humanitarian crisis and refuse seafarers the right to return home, to proper medical attention, or to relieve tired crew on ships. We should not, and cannot, tolerate situations like the Vega Dream arising.”

This latter case refers to the afore-mentioned iron-ore carrier, which arrived in Port Hedland, Western Australia with seven infected crew members. The crew were able to interact with shore personnel and then left Australian waters despite cases of infected crew on board in urgent need of medical attention.

The exemption has also been used by less scrupulous ship owners to keep crew at sea for far longer than legally allowed, a case of which led to the stopping and impounding of the MV Metis Leader at Melbourne Harbour in October.

The ITF also expressed disappointment that the exemption will continue for another three months. Barcellona said Australia needed to coordinate their policy on seafarers across Federal agencies and state governments better by introducing ‘green lanes’ to get seafarers safely and efficiently to and from airports to ships. The same goes for many other governments, he said.

“After eight months of the crew change crisis, governments must address the fundamental problems that lead to ships having over-contract seafarers, border restrictions, impossible quarantine rules, and a lack of international flights.

“We welcome governments reaching out to us and others in the industry to work collaboratively to help resolve the crew change crisis. There are solutions, but governments need to adopt them.”