By Akanimo Sampson
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is scaling up pressure on the government on the plight of 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world.
The seafarers are being trapped because of measures to contain the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic.
Referring to the provisions
of the Maritime
Labour Convention, 2006, ILO
wants governments to adopt without delay all possible measures to facilitate
crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, while taking steps to minimise
the risk of contagion.
More than a month after the global labour
body issued warnings, at the end of April, about
the plight of seafarers refused permission to leave their ships, limited
progress has been achieved and, according to ILO, the situation is worsening by
Many of those onboard completed their tours of duty more than four months ago but with contracts extended exceptionally because of the crisis, many are now reported to be experiencing mental health issues and physical exhaustion, which is reducing their ability to safely carry out their duties.
ILO has urged governments, immigration, health and maritime authorities to work together to recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’ who ensure the flow of trade and the movement of vital medical supplies, safety equipment, food and other critical goods during the pandemic.
In the mean time, the
restrictions on crew changes, brought in by countries to reduce the spread of
COVID-19, have meant that seafarers waiting to return to sea have lost their
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, says
“I urge member states to recognize seafarers as key workers and adopt the urgently-needed measures that will enable those who have been working hard to keep us supplied with medicines, food and other necessities, to go home and be replaced by fresh crews.
“Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable. This jeopardizes their health and endangers maritime safety. Action is needed now to ensure decent work for seafarers, avoid maritime accidents and environmental disasters. We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety.”
The International Chamber of Shipping, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation called attention to the urgency of the situation in a letter to the United Nation Secretary-General, António Guterres on May 21.
They highlighted the risks to the mental and physical health of crews trapped on board and expressed concerns about the most vulnerable potentially resorting to self-harm and even suicide.