IMO Secretary-General Calls for “Key Worker” Designation for Seafarers

Mike Schuler
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April 2, 2020
Photo: deela dee / Shutterstock

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim urged the United Nations to request governments to declare seafarers, port personnel and other crucial maritime workers as “key personnel” amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mr. Lim made the plea during a video meeting on Thursday with other UN chiefs and the UN Secretary-General to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 crisis. 

During the meeting, Lim highlighted the importance and well-being of maritime workers to the global supply chain, and particularly world’s seafarers who are on one of the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. 

Lim brought attention to travel bans and restrictions on crew changes imposed by governments due to the pandemic, and the impacts these restrictions have on the flow of goods, including critical items such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and food supply. 

The International Maritime Organization’s plea echoes shipping industry calls for governments to keep shipping and supply chains open and grant special travel exemptions to seafarers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) jointly called on G20 government leaders to support the maritime sector and global supply chains. The letter also urged crews to be classed as key workers.

“Ensuring that seafarers can travel without undue restriction will be key to maintaining the flow of food, medicine and key commodities to those countries that need it most,” said ICS secretary general Guy Platten.

The International Maritime Organization this week also distributed a Circular Letter with a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities for keeping the flow of goods moving.

The letter specifically called on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as “key workers” providing an essential service. 

Referring to the issue of crew changes, the letter stated professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and allow their transit so they can be repatriated.


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