As a result of the pandemic, more than 200,000 seafarers worldwide remain trapped or awaiting work. Due to virus restrictions, many vessels are banned from entering the port, causing great disruption to international routes and the well-being of seafarers.
Crew substitutions or substitutions occur at ports of call where a batch of new crew members arrives to replace the moving crew members who are nearing the end of the contract.
Departing crew members are usually repatriated and wait to sign on to a new vessel. Vessels also prefer crew members from their own country for communication and legal requirements.
COVID-19 and subsequent border restrictions make the process of crew change difficult. For example, authorities in Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai have imposed stricter restrictions on vessels entering ports following the surge in COVID-19 in countries like India.
Virus restrictions confuse crew change protocol
The left-behind seafarers are forced to extend their contracts and continue to operate the vessel. Some have worked on board for more than 17 months, far exceeding the 11-month limit required by international treaties.
Delays in the implementation of safe crew replacement protocols by port authorities have prevented crew members from disembarking and repatriating.
The International Maritime Organization, the United Nations Maritime Labor Sector, has issued a warning about the long-term stress and fatigue of seafarers, which impedes their ability to do their best jobs and increases the risk of marine accidents. ..
This adds to the dangers that already exist at sea, such as bad weather, piracy, and non-standard vessels.
“Sailors cannot stay in the sea indefinitely,” IMO Secretary-General Kitac Lim told countries. “Whole government” approach.
Lim urged the government to recognize seafarers as key workers and resolve the predicament of changing crews, including travel and visa restrictions, availability of planes to ports of call, and vaccines. Includes inoculation priorities, etc.
“Changing the crew is not as simple and easy as it used to be,” said Ramos, a Filipino sailor chef who refused to use his real name for fear of retaliation.
“It takes less than a day to complete the travel documents, transportation to and from the port and accommodation, and crew changes,” he told Epoch Times.
“Sometimes seafarers also have to go through a series of connecting flights that travel half the world to reach somewhere near the connecting port.” Kochhar of container logistics company AP Moller said: Told the South China Morning Post..
“Even after arriving at the port, the crew must follow various COVID-19 protocols before entering some countries.”
A surge of viruses that disrupts Indian sailors
The number of crew members awaiting return has halved from 400,000 last year, but the increase in travel bans on Indian crew members and the surge in COVID cases in the Indian subcontinent exacerbated the crisis in 2020. It may push back to the peak.
India is one of the world’s largest sources of maritime workers, supplying 15% of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers, or about 240,000.
“Approximately 14% of Indian seafarers have been vaccinated at least for the first time. About 1% have been fully vaccinated,” the South China Morning Post reported. report..
Meanwhile, industry experts are pushing for priority vaccination of Indian seafarers as shipping employers choose to hire Filipino and Indonesian crew members rather than Indians.
On May 31, the Maritime Association (MASSA) of Indian Ship Owners, Ship Managers and Agencies announced nationwide. Vaccination drive For Indian sailors.
“We will begin COVID vaccination efforts after June 10 and aim to inoculate at least 10,000 Indian seafarers in Mumbai with a dose of Covishield within two weeks,” said MASSA CEO Shiv. Halbe says.
There was an 84-day waiting period between the first and second injections, but industry experts say the move is time for an industry that may soon need proof of crew vaccination. Said Lee.
“Prohibition of crew change” clause that infringes human rights
Since last year, the International Maritime Organization has imposed strict requirements on charterers. “No change of crew” clause With their contract. This clause allows ships to avoid visits to ports where crew changes are common and to avoid delays that can occur if new members are later tested positive for the virus. To do.
In a statement condemning the law, Secretary-General Lim told charterers to refrain from including such provisions in charter contracts and urged ship operators to reject these provisions. Chartered.
Lim said these provisions exacerbate the mental and physical fatigue of already exhausted seafarers. This can further compromise compliance with maritime labor laws and jeopardize safe navigation.
“It is particularly disappointing to see the case of some well-known seafarers who publicly support seafarers and require charter contracts and voyage instructions to include a” no change in crew “clause.” by Richard Hext, Chairman of the ASA Ship Insurance and Responsibility Committee.
“Such provisions violate the human rights of seafarers and clearly violate the shipowner’s liability under the 2006 MLC. [Maritime Labour Convention 2006]”
On May 6, UN agencies released a checklist to help companies fulfill their responsibility to protect the rights of seafarers in engaging in shipping services. Is Human rights due diligence tool It also corrects due diligence in fulfilling human rights obligations.
“For too long, shipping has been a human rights blind spot for global brands,” said Stephen Cotton, Executive Director of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, in a statement. We want to understand how our chain partners, even carelessly, violate human rights. “
Sailor still trapped in Limbo
The 2021 Seafarers’ Day campaign calls on the government to recognize seafarers as key workers and relax seafarers’ travel restrictions to facilitate crew changes during the pandemic.
Seafarers form the backbone of the supply chain and supply 80% of the world’s supplies, but few are aware of their plight.
Even after returning to Japan, many seafarers are unable to board and return to work.
“I want to keep working for as long as I can. I need a job of arranging food on the table to feed my children and family. The current situation is bad, but I’m ready to sign again. Calls coming soon. I hope Ramos added.
Filipino sailors on the other side of the world Ralph SantilanIt has been stranded for 18 months off the coast of South Korea, Told the New York Times He had to put up with thinking about his family. No matter what happens here, I have to leave it to God. ”
“You can’t afford to miss someone. You can’t think of them to focus on your work. Missing someone makes you heavier.”