Today’s market circumstances, amid the mayhem that COVID-19 continues to exert on the global supply chain, seafarers can easily be seen as “collateral damage”, needing all the support they can get. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “seafarers keep maritime trade going so that the food, raw materials, energy and manufactured goods on which so many depend can continue moving around the world. At this critical point during these unprecedented times, people outside the maritime industry can now better understand and realize the role of seafarers in this industry, it’s wide spectrum and that ninety percent of global trade is transported by commercial seaborne transportation”.
According to Intermodal’s, Christopher Whitty, Director, Towage & Marine Port Services, “it has been three months since the crew-repatriation issue first arose and despite a major lobbying effort on the part of the shipping industry, there has been remarkably little progress in terms of actually getting crewmembers home. Apart from the main aspects of the problem, there is a lot of logistical planning and coordination into this, a key requirement of which is the resumption of international flights”.
Mr. Whitty said that “most countries around the world are trying to get back to what is displayed in the media as a new normal, in an attempt to restart their economies, but ultimately if the crew changes problem is not resolved quickly and as a result ships aren’t able to operate safely and support vital trade routes and cargoes, the respective economies will not have the fundamentals to restart properly. Seafarer labor interests agreed to not stand in the way of one-month extensions to employment contracts on March 15, on April 15 and and again on mid-May. At the moment, however, the status quo has not changed and internationally recognized bodies such as the ITF (International Transport Federation ) are stressing again that if we do not see tangible and significant progress now or the latest by mid-June, then we will be facing an even bigger problem and multiple threats related to the health and wellbeing of seafarers at sea and the risks associated with this vague landscape”.
Intermodal’s analyst added that “the pandemic outbreak halted virtually all crew repatriations from ships, so crews have kept working way beyond their original contract terms, away from their families who are also going through restrictions. The oceangoing shipping industry has been working aggressively to solve the crew-repatriation issue, urging governments to designate seafarers as “key workers” and allow them to transit regardless of nationality. The ITF meets frequently with delegates of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents the ship operators; the World Health Organization; the International Maritime Organization (IMO); and the International Labor Organization (ILO)”.
Whitty added that “the International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80 percent of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage, and the International Transport Federation which speaks for two million seafarers, have issued a bipartisan call for action to: Designate a specific and limited number of airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crews, redefine seafarers as key workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, lift national restrictions designed for non essential passengers and deliver their commitment to keep supply chains open by taking urgent measures on the issue. Seafarers need to be supported and enabled in the essential role they play in our societies so that the human factor does not fail and make the recovery stage from this pandemic more difficult”, he concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide