Seafarers "forced" to continue work under expired contracts as govts. demand supplies but close borders

Seafarers are amongst those workers experiencing the disruption caused by travel bans, implemented by government hoping to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Reports have surfaced that workers are having to continue to work under expired contracts as they are unable to return home. Whilst some are reportedly receiving wages, seafarers globally face variously challenging conditions and are unable to disembark from ships at ports.

Industry bodies have called for seafarers to be exempt from travel bans, calling on governments around the world to recognise the significance of their work to enable global supply chains to continue uninterrupted. In a joint letter to UN agencies overseeing maritime regulations and labour law, the Global Maritime Transport Industry asked that seafarers be regarded as key workers to enable them to leave and return to their ships.

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30 May 2020

UN under pressure to alleviate 'humanitarian disaster' as number of stranded seafarers surpasses 200,000

Author: Sam Chambers, Splash

25 May 2020

The UN secretary-general was shipping and trade unions leaders to persuade his 193 member states to act urgenty to avoid a "humanitarian crisis", with over 200,000 seafarers currently stuck working on vessels across the globe and unable to be relieved of their duties.


The [joint] letter states: "There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue."

"Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatique and exnaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers."

The letter highlights the responsibility of governments to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


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25 March 2020

Trapped at sea by Covid-19 lockdowns, crew members plead for help

Author: Matt Apuzzo & Selam Gebrekidan, New York Times

150,000 [seafarers] with expired work contracts have been forced into continued labor aboard commercial ships worldwide to meet the demands of governments that have closed their borders and yet still want fuel, food and supplies...

Maritime organizations have lobbied governments to exempt crew members from travel bans, without success. Shipping companies say they are sympathetic, but need to keep commerce humming...

Seafarers... have been forced to stay onboard and work without their consent. [A small number] have been able to leave ships but cannot get home and is stranded ashore without salaries, saddled with hotel bills.

Some crew members have suggested an organized work stoppage... But others say they would surely be blackballed in the industry if they refused orders to work.

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19 March 2020

Joint Open Letter to United Nations agencies from the global maritime transport industry

Author: Global Maritime Transport Industry

It is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving...

keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews...

the world’s professional merchant seafarers [should] be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions...

we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international ‘key workers’... they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships.

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19 March 2020

Seafarers must be exempt from travel bans, say ICS and ITF

Author: Anastassios Adamopoulos, Lloyds List

Shipowner and seafarer bodies are calling for seafarers to be exempt from national travel bans, while the head of the International Maritime Organization has called for pragmatism in dealing with crew changeovers.

The International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have sent a joint letter to the heads of United Nations agencies stressing the importance of seafarers in the circulation of global trade and the integrity of supply chains...

“We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions..."

seafarers should be treated as any other international “key workers”, such as airline crew and medical personnel, they said.