200,000 Seafarers Stuck at Sea on International Day of the Seafarer

As you read this, there are approximately 200,000 (1) seafarers trapped on their ships due to COVID-19 restrictions at ports.

More than 90% of trade is conducted by sea, with approximately 1.2 million seafarers at sea currently. June 25 is the International Day of the Seafarer and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) calls on Member states “to recognise seafarers as key workers – and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic.”
As an island nation, Australia is reliant on seafarers to keep the economy going with the resources sector alone expected to generate $256 billion (2) in exports this year.

Teresa Lloyd, MIAL CEO says “Maritime crews globally are the ultimate FIFO workforce. By their very nature they travel to join vessels, work on those vessels wherever they may be or go and return home once their swing has ended.”

Essential workers are all being affected differently. But, imagine if a nurse could not leave their workplace for more than a month; so it is for our seafarers, many of whom would otherwise have completed their 11 month contract during the COVID crisis have had them extended time and time again. Some have now been onboard for 14 months, and not left their vessel to step foot ashore since COVID-19 began. By not allowing this group of essential workers the ability to move to and from their work, an incredible burden has been placed on maritime crews, their families and their employers.

On June 12, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations released a statement on the repatriation of seafarers and called on all countries to “formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as ‘key workers’”. Ms Lloyd adds “it’s a global issue which makes it an Australian issue. We have to play our part in the solution.

Australian governments at State and Federal level need to do more to facilitate these crews changing over. In theory, most jurisdictions say seafarers can disembark and return home (or fly in and board a ship), but in practice in many States the process is not possible.

The current situation risks the safety of the ships and their crews as fatigue has kicked in, not to mention the toll that the prolonged uncertainty is taking on the mental wellbeing of seafarers worldwide. Australia has obligations under international conventions and although the circumstances are exceptional, all assistance must be provided to shipowners to be able to conduct the crew changes that owners and workers desperately want to see happen.

As the situation globally escalates, we must not forget our domestic seafarers. After a difficult start with a range of internal border closures, which are not yet completely resolved, we must thank our nations’ seafarers and their families for enduring lengthy periods of quarantine and longer work rosters. This pandemic highlights the need for Australia to have a robust, stable maritime sector to keep our economy ticking and our seafarers are critical to that outcome.

On International Day of the Seafarer, we hope all the States provide practical mechanisms for this to happen. Putting rigid timeframes like 48 hours on when a ship needs to sail or 24 hours on when a flight needs to depart is impractical when flights are scarce and unreliable and shipping schedules are notoriously variable.”

#heroesatsea #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers #bringoursailorshome

(1) International Chamber of Shipping
(2) Department of Industry Science Energy & Resources, Australia’s resources and energy exports forecast to set fresh record, 19 December, 2019

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