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A mariner gets his temperature checked after his ship arrives in port. Image via IMO

New Guidance Helps Seafarers and Shipowners Navigate Pandemic Challenges

Mike Schuler
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September 13, 2021

Despite improvements in vaccination rates among the world’s seafarers, currently only 25% are fully vaccinated and most are not in line to receive the vaccine through national programs until at least 2022, the International Chamber of Shipping said Monday upon publishing new guidance for seafarers and shipowners address challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Chamber of Shipping has worked with a coalition of industry partners to produce the new and updated guidance, which aims to empower seafarers and shipowners in order to protect and support themselves through the next stage of the pandemic. The new guidance includes guides on vaccinations, manning agents, mental health issues, and shore leave.

Since early last year, severe pandemic-induced travel restrictions across the world have led to seafarers being stranded on board for extended periods, some for more than 18 months. The situation has not only acted as deterrent to existing workers and potential new recruits, but also stretched global supply chains to breaking point, creating shortages of some key goods and driving shipping costs that approaching all-time highs.

“Throughout the pandemic, the shipping industry has time and again come together to support its own,” said Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping. “The sector has been more united and effective in its response to the pandemic than most sectors. But we must ensure that we maintain this spirit of collaboration and all pull together to anticipate and meet the needs of the world’s hidden key workers – seafarers.”

While conditions seemed to be improving heading into the summer months, the emergence of the Delta variant has only further exacerbated many of the problems as we now head into peak shipping season.

“As the Delta variant threatens the global south, a part of the world that supplies nearly half of the seafarer workforce, with greater urgency, it is critical that seafarers and shipowners have the resources needed to navigate the next stage of the pandemic,” said Platten.

The new seafarer guides address acute issues faced by seafarers during the pandemic. For example, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccination for Seafarers and Shipping Companies: A Practical Guide, answers pressing frequently asked questions. Another guide, Coronavirus (COVID-19): Seafarer Shore-Leave Principles, sets out principles for providing shore leave while navigating draconian travel restrictions across the globe. Manning Agency Guidelines was produced to help shipping companies choose reputable manning agencies and to ensure that seafarers are recruited in line with the requirements of the ILO.

Seafarers have also suffered more from mental health struggles during the crew change crisis and issues arising to the pandemic. Handling a Mental Health Crisis or Emergency and Spotting Suicidal Behaviour in Seafarers lays tools out for companies to create a caring on-board culture to address mental health matters.

“Seafarers have made enormous personal sacrifice over the last 18 months,” added Platten. “While admirable, it has put enormous pressure both on them as individuals and on the global supply chain. ICS and our partners hope that our new guidance will provide protection and assurance to seafarers around the world, and help improve their experience on board and on shore.”

The new guides were released Monday to coincide with the start of London International Shipping Week, one of the premiere events for the shipping industry. They were produced in association with International Maritime Health Association, INTERTANKO, International Transport Worker Federation (ITF), European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ESCA), Intercargo, InterManager, International Association of Ports and Harbors, International Christian Maritime Association, International Marine Contractors Association, International Maritime Employers’ Council Ltd., Asian Shipowners’ Association (ASA), and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC).

The new guides are available for download on the International Chamber of Shipping’s website.

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