Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, hundreds of thousands of the world’s two million seafarers have been “stranded at sea for months”, said the UN chief on Friday, calling for them to be categorized as “key workers”, during the pandemic.
Unable to disembark, the statement released on behalf of António Guterres through his Spokesperson, said that the maximum sea time stipulated in international conventions, was being ignored, “with some seafarers marooned at sea for 15 months”.
“The Secretary-General is concerned about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers around the world”, said the statement.
The ongoing crisis is having a direct impact on the shipping industry, which transports more than 80 per cent of traded goods – including vital medical supplies, food and other basic necessities - critical for the COVID-19 response and recovery.
“The world could not function without the efforts of seafarers, yet their contributions go largely unheralded” said Mr. Guterres. “They deserve far greater support at any time, but especially now”.
In a bid to ensure that changeovers can safely take place, the Secretary-General called on all countries to “formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as ‘key workers’”.
Repatriate marine workers
Meanwhile, taking full account of public health concerns, UN agencies – including the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – have been working with the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers Federation, to develop protocols for crew changeovers.
“The Secretary-General calls on all governments to urgently implement these protocols, allowing stranded seafarers to repatriate and others to join ships”, the statement concluded.
Endangering maritime safety
Last month, ILO received claims that numerous seafarers in need of immediate medical care ashore, were not permitted to disembark at many ports around the world, while those waiting to return to sea, were losing their source of income.
And earlier this week, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said that “forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable”, as it “jeopardizes their health and endangers maritime safety”.
“We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety", he upheld.