IN A statement issued ahead of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization has called on governments to take swift action to resolve the crew change crisis.
He says a “humanitarian crisis is taking place at sea and urgent action is needed to protect seafarers’ health and ensure the safety of shipping”.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently stranded at sea and unable to be repatriated despite the expiry of their contracts. A similar number of seafarers have been unable to join ships and relieve them.
This is due to restrictions imposed by several governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports, quarantine measures, reductions in available flights and limits on the issuing of visas and passports.
Some seafarers have now been on board their ships for more than 17 months, exceeding the 11-months limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention. Many have been denied proper access to medical care and shore leave, in breach of their rights under the MLC and other international instruments.
“Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue operating vessels, increasing the risk of shipping casualties,” Mr Lim said.
“Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely. If the crew change crisis is not resolved soon, ships will no longer be able to operate safely pursuant to the Organization’s regulations and guidelines, further exacerbating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mr Lim said that resolving the crew change crisis will require a “whole of government” approach involving several ministries. He reiterated his call to all member states to designate seafarers as key workers providing an essential service, and to implement the IMO-approved protocols to allow for safe and secure crew changes.
The IMO Secretary-General also insisted on the importance of removing other barriers to crew changes, such as visa and travel restrictions, and of providing seafarers with immediate access to medical care and medical facilities on shore, when needed.
“While significant progress has been made by many countries in allowing for crew changes for all seafarers, the rate of progress is not keeping pace with the backlog of ships requiring crew changes,” Mr Lim said.
Mr Lim has urged member states to raise the issue of seafarers and the crew change crisis during the upcoming High-Level Week of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, beginning on 22 September.