Jan 20, 2021 11:06 AM

All this applies equally to colleagues who should relieve them but cannot come on board for the same reasons. As if that were not enough, stranded as they are: both have stopped receiving wages.


The problem affects, on the one hand, some 400,000 seafarers. Some of them have been stranded on board for 17 months, also due to lack of air connections or because their States of origin have closed borders.


On the other hand, roughly the same number of colleagues are stuck home and, therefore, de facto unemployed. According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), those affected will soon add up to one million.


Unsustainable conditions


Investors describe "considerable health and safety risks" on board ships and at the docks where they are anchored, if exhausted and unmotivated seafarers have to load or unload dangerous goods under difficult conditions.


Additionally, they warn of potential disruptions to global supply chains, which in turn could jeopardize the security of supply in some parts of the world. They ask the United Nations to classify seafarers as "essential workers" and allow them to reach their ships or, from these, return home.

Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth from the International Union of Transport Workers (ITF) confirms the unsustainable situation on many ships. The unionist already described this summer, in an interview with DW, how much seafarers suffer mentally and physically from the coronavirus restrictions. And she called on governments to help those affected.


German shipowners are also alarmed


The problem has been publicly addressed several times since the outbreak of the pandemic. But so far, little has changed. A month ago, the Association of German Shipowners (VDR) also demanded help for seafarers in the COVID-19 pandemic. The VDR also urges that they be classified as "essential workers" and given priority in vaccination.


The president of the VDR, Alfred Hartmann, called on December 10 to lift the - sometimes rigid - travel restrictions. He cited two resolutions from the UN and his International Labor Organization (ILO). In early December, the UN itself called for the designation of seafarers as "essential workers".


Successful intervention


Sometimes these calls can be successful, as an example from last November in Asia and Australia shows: the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) had called on the governments of Australia, China and India to end the conditions unsustainable on some coal freighters.


According to the ITF, vessels such as the Jag Anand and Anastasia had not been able to dock for months. On them and on other vessels, there were sailors who had been in service for 20 consecutive months, when the law sets a maximum period of eleven months.


Abdulgani Y. Serang, director of the Seafarers Union of India, spoke of a "humanitarian crisis". Seafarers are "mentally and physically exhausted," he warned. So it was "very worrying" that Chinese officials, for example, continued to ban the anchoring of Australian coal carriers.


Just one day later, the ITF was able to report that at least one authority had reacted. The Australian Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) announced on 18 November that it would no longer grant exemptions from the "eleven month rule". ITF coordinator Fabrizio Barcellona emphasized once again that "it is unacceptable that the humanitarian crisis surrounding the crew change continues to be ignored, and that seafarers continue to be denied their right to return home and care proper medical ".


Exemplary program


While official action is rarely taken, some organizations act voluntarily. For example, in cooperation with an employers' association and two hotel chains, the ITF has launched a program in Manila to help seafarers in need.


In the capital of the Philippines, 300 rooms have been set up, in which seafarers can live for a 14-day quarantine, which is secured and monitored 24 hours a day. The program, in which seafarers are put to the test, has been running since October 28. If the result of your tests is negative, group transfers are organized to the airport. At the same time, replacement crews that test negative are brought aboard the ships.


For ITF Secretary General Stephen Cotton, this system is “the safest way” for seafarers to both go to work and exercise their right to return home.


But for Schwiegershausen-Güth, from the ITF itself, individual initiatives like the one in Manila are not enough. It is necessary, he insists, that governments react to the union's demands. Or that the United Nations heed the call of the 85 investors and, in turn, press the legislators of all the countries involved to alleviate the plight of seafarers.


Source: Deutsche Welle via DGCI


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