SEVERAL seafarer welfare charities and shipping industry players have launched an emergency relief fund for seafarers and their families devastated by the rampant COVID-19 pandemic in India and other countries.

With hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded on vessels for months beyond agreed contracts, in some cases, the crew change crisis seems no closer to ending. The escalation of COVID-19 cases in India to more than 400,000 per day has prompted some major ports, including Singapore, to prohibit ship crew changes for seafarers with recent travel history to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

In response, the Seafarers International Relief Fund has set a target of US $1m to deliver urgent support to seafarers and their families in India.

This emergency relief fund for seafarers was established by bringing together leading international seafarer welfare organisations, The Seafarers’ Charity (formerly Seafarers UK) supported by The Mission to Seafarers, ISWAN, Sailors’ Society, Stella Maris, and other charities – in a united appeal to the shipping industry to support the fund.

Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, welcomed the establishment of the fund saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause immense hardship all around the world.

“I offer my heartfelt support to all those struggling at this time. I am pleased to learn of the establishment of this industry-led emergency fund to assist seafarers and their families during these unprecedented times,” he said.

Esben Poulsson, chair of the International Chamber of Shipping, said, “We have all been shocked by the images and stories coming from India and our hearts go out to the people of India and those from India working around the world who are suffering from the impact of this pandemic.

“It often takes a crisis to bring people together and this is no different. The fact that seafarer charities have come together signifies the scale of the challenge before us in the short term and looking further ahead.

“I am calling on shipowners and all those engaged in the maritime sector to support this initiative and consider increasing your contribution to seafarer charities at this time.”

A number of major shipping organisation have already pledged their support to the fund, including Anglo-Eastern, Ardmore Shipping, Cargill, Hafnia, IRI (Marshall Islands Flag), MSC, Pacific Basin and V.Group.

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One of those donors, Mark Cameron, COO of Ardmore Shipping, spoke on behalf of those organisations who are supporting the Fund.

“As we have seen the situation in India deteriorate rapidly over the past few days, it is clear that this unprecedented crisis required an unprecedented response from all of us. Shipping is a global family and right now, our Indian seafarers need our help.

“Many of those at sea are desperately worried about their families, as the situation in India continues to get worse. With limited contact with home, they are caught between ongoing travel restrictions and the crew change crisis, and the understandable desire to continue working to support their families,” Mr Cameron said.

“I would urge everyone to donate to this critical appeal, so that we can deliver the support and relief that will be needed for many months to come.”

The fund will be used to deliver aid through existing welfare program run by the  welfare partners in India, to make sure that support reaches seafarers and their families as quickly as possible, as well as ensuring that support can remain in place over the challenging weeks and months ahead.

Although the immediate focus of the campaign is India, other countries also remain highly vulnerable to the pandemic, including those with large numbers of international seafarers. The goal of the SIRF is to stand ready to support seafarers and their families afflicted by the pandemic in other countries, should the need arise.

The SIRF donations page can be found here.

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