Photo courtesy International Maritime Organization
A group of governments from twelve countries have come together to pledge urgent action to resolve the crew change crisis that has emerged as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
In a joint statement presented Thursday during the virtual International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes, representatives from 12 countries expressed their deep concern about the current crisis and acknowledged that “the inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade”.
At least 200,000 seafarers are estimated to stranded on ships and awaiting repatriation amid government-imposed travel restrictions. This inability for routine crew changes has led to a growing humanitarian crisis in shipping, in addition to concerns that seafarer fatigue and mental health issues may lead to serious maritime accidents.
The joint statement encourages all IMO states to designate seafarers as key workers and to implement the Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, which were endorsed and circulated by IMO in May. The joint statement also recognizes the importance of considering the possibility of waivers or exemptions from visa or documentary requirements for seafarers, and to help increase access to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim welcomed the call to facilitate crew changes and achieve key worker designation for seafarers.
“It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew wellbeing should not be compromised. The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us, for the world economy and for the safety of life at sea and the environment,” said Secretary-General Lim.
The joint statement was signed by representatives from the following countries: Denmark, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States of America.
The full text of the joint statement is below:
Joint statement of the international maritime virtual summit on crew changes
Our collective efforts to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have demonstrated the critical need to prioritise the continued functioning of global supply chains to ensure the resilience of our national economies, and the importance of facilitating the safe and efficient operation of the maritime transportation system, which moves over 80% of global trade.
Critical to this endeavour is the ability of shipping companies to continue conducting crew changes throughout the world, notwithstanding the restrictions applied by many national authorities in response to the pandemic.
We, as the representatives of governments attending the International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes held on 9 July 2020 by the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, are deeply concerned by the global crisis.
Specifically, those created by ongoing obstacles affecting ship’s crew changes, the impact on the wellbeing of seafarers, and the impact that any failure by governments to resolve these issues will have on maritime transport, which must be permitted to continue to operate safely and efficiently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, we acknowledge, as a matter of urgent concern:
- that the inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade
- at least 200,000 seafarers are estimated to require immediate repatriation, with many serving on extended crew contracts who are overdue to return home, in addition to a similar number of seafarers that urgently need to join their ships in order to allow the world’s internationally trading vessels to continue to operate safely
- seafarers’ tours of duty cannot continue to be extended and need to be kept to a duration of less than 12 months, as set out by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, as amended – the global shipping industry estimates that, since March 2020, only about 25% of normal crew changes have taken place; apart from the humanitarian and crew welfare concerns, and issues of regulatory compliance, there is an increasing risk that fatigue and mental health issues could lead to serious maritime accidents
- the complexity of facilitating ship’s crew changes, regardless of the seafarers’ nationality, requires concerted action as well as access to commercial flights to the principal seafarer countries of origin and those countries where crew changes take place
- that the health and wellbeing of seafarers is paramount and is inextricably linked to the continuing safety and efficiency of ship operations
- that the uncertainty around a possible second wave of COVID-19 underscores the need for swift actions without further delay to allow crew changes and to avoid further consequences to the already fragile global supply chain, which relies on goods transported by ships
- that the lessons learned during the COVID-19 outbreak be used to create international protocols in partnership with the maritime industry and the regulatory agencies, to provide practical instruments to facilitate shipping operations and enable seafarers to perform their essential role, in case of a future global pandemic
We therefore recognise the importance of the pledges set out below and, as a matter of urgency, to:
- Encourage all International Maritime Organization (IMO) states to designate seafarers as “key workers” providing an essential service, to facilitate a safe and unhindered movement for embarking or disembarking a vessel.
- Consider the legal possibilities for accepting internationally recognised documentation, such as International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers certificate, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Seafarers’ Identity Document (ILO 185) and a letter by the seafarers’ company, carried by seafarers as evidence of their status as key workers, and purpose of their travel and movement for crew changes.
- Engage, nationally, multilaterally and bilaterally, in discussions about implementation, to the maximum extent possible, as appropriate to the circumstances that may prevail nationally or locally, of the recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, circulated to IMO member states as Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14 on 5 May 2020.
- Review, working in conjunction with our health, immigration and other relevant ministries, agencies and authorities, the necessity of any restrictions that may continue to apply, at national and/or local level, to the movement and travel of seafarers for the purpose of conducting ships’ crew changes. This includes the possibility of allowing exemptions from quarantine or similar restrictions in accordance with relevant international rules or health regulatory guidelines.
- Consider, in liaison with our relevant ministries and authorities, including those responsible for immigration, temporary measures including (where possible under relevant law) the possibility of waivers, exemptions or other relaxations from any visa or documentary requirements that might normally apply to seafarers.
- Explore, in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation industry, ways of increasing access, as soon as possible, to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers and the airports in reasonable proximity to those seaports where crew changes are effected.
- Urge all IMO members to take any necessary measures, within their area of jurisdiction, to ensure seafarers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic enjoy safe crew changes as well as repatriation to their home countries or to their place of ordinary residence.
We express our deepest appreciation to the world’s seafarers who have continued tirelessly to operate ships and move trade throughout this global crisis, and pledge to take forward these actions at this summit with the urgency and resolve needed by the situation.
Together, we can avert the global crisis that is unfolding at sea and play our part in helping the world defeat the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The governments of:
- United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- United States of America
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