SEAFARERS who have been in direct contact with Human Rights at Sea are increasingly calling for greater levels of personal protective equipment to be made more widely available. They say it should be made available for themselves but also for those that come onboard their vessels including surveyors, agents, pilots and stevedores.

Advice issued by the International Chamber of Shipping says although face masks may provide some protection, their routine use is not generally recommended as protection against COVID-19.

“WHO advises that it is appropriate to use a mask when coughing or sneezing. If an individual is healthy, it is only necessary to wear a mask if the person is taking care of a person with the suspected COVID-19 infection,” the ICS said.

This view is not necessarily shared by frontline seafarers who appear to be seeking greater reassurance for individual levels of protection as the pandemic unfolds, including the individual right to wear PPE such as masks and gloves.

One crew member in contact with HRAS said, “Please raise the issue of seafarers exposure risk to COVID 19 before some unfortunate seafarers die onboard”.

Seafarers are covered under Regulation 4.3 of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention. It states that, “each Member shall ensure that seafarers on ships that fly its flag are provided with occupational health protection and live, work and train on board ship in a safe and hygienic environment”.

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In Australia crew must also use personal protective equipment in public spaces onboard the vessel whilst non-crew members are onboard.

“In reality, at the present time such high quality PPE may not be widely available, not individually recommended, nor realistic for use by crew, but the trend appears to be that seafarers are wanting to have access to it,” says David Hammond from HRAS.

In the UK, it was reported that Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association said, “PPE supplies – sanitiser, masks etc – are beginning to run low in some ports and this may soon start to have a knock-on effect”.

In the recent reported case of the master of the MV Tomini Destiny refusing to off-load alongside the port of Chittagong, Bangladesh, due to crew concerns over contracting COVID-19 from excessive numbers of allegedly unscreened local stevedores not using PPE, the master asked for PPE to be made available for crew use during ongoing shipboard operations which included gloves and face masks, as well as for remote off-loading by barges away from port wharves.

In that case, the owners responded, issued the crew with comprehensive PPE, and sanctioned the off-loading in outer anchorages as part of the compromise. Nonetheless, consistent use of PPE cannot be guaranteed by workers involved in offloads when in contact with crew members.

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