UN recognizes work of 2 million seafarers in ‘extraordinarily challenging times’

30 September 2021

The United Nations celebrates World Maritime Day on Thursday, highlighting the role of the men and women who work at sea. Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future, is the theme for 2021.  

In his message for the day, the UN Secretary-General said the goal is to “pay tribute to the professionalism and resilience of seafarers.” 

António Guterres said the day also recognizes “their indispensable role securing vital global supply chains and transporting over 80 per cent of world trade in extraordinarily challenging times.” 

This trade includes medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the COVID-19 response, but the pandemic continues to place immense physical and mental pressures on the roughly two million women and men who serve in the world’s merchant fleet. 

Humanitarian crisis 

Hundreds of thousands of seafarers also face a humanitarian crisis, with many, in effect, stranded at sea, unable to disembark from the ships they operate, due to lengthy contract extensions amid the pandemic. 

“Unable to go to shore, repatriate and change crews, and without access to medical care, seafarers face a humanitarian crisis that jeopardizes the safety and the future of shipping,” Mr. Guterres said.  

He renewed his appeal to governments to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”, ensuring safe crew changes, implementing established protocols, and allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated.

“These critical workers must have access to national vaccination programmes, and provisions should be made to vaccinate international seafarers at designated ports,” he argued.

For Mr. Guterres, fovernments must comply with relevant international treaty obligations to render assistance to any seafarers in distress, including medical assistance, ensuring rights and needs of seafarers are respected.

A greener future 

Looking ahead, the Secretary-General said that seafarers will play a critical role helping advance shipping’s move towards sustainability, “helping the sector do its vital part in building a sustainable future for people and planet.”

This year’s theme is also connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 4 on education and training, SDG 8 related to decent work, SDG 9 on innovation and industry, and SDG 5 on gender equality. 

 

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