Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Trade unions urge gov’ts to assist crew members trapped at sea

Published:Tuesday | June 9, 2020 | 12:08 AM

Leaders from maritime unions are asking governments to assist crew members who are trapped on their ships, unable to return home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that over 200,000 seafarers across the marine unions are facing this challenge. With seafarers trapped at sea for so long, the matter gradually becomes a humanitarian crisis due to the deterioration of the crew members mental and physical well-being and, consequently, poses a threat to global trade. Under maritime conventions, port state control authorities can stop ships if seafarers have been on-board for too many months.

Across the globe, due to travel restrictions, ports that are not allowing disembarkations and some government offices remaining closed make it extremely difficult for seafarers to do their jobs and to make it home. Writing on the subject, the shipping industry journal, The Maritime Executive, says presidents of six United States (US) maritime unions jointly contacted the US Secretaries of State and Defense to facilitate overseas relief for American mariners; and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin, on behalf of the ITF and the Maritime Union of Australia, made calls to the Australian prime minister, with both asking that seafarers, including dock workers, be treated as essential workers during the pandemic.

To facilitate crew changes and repatriation, global cruise ships have taken the decision - what seems to be the only available solution – to try and return crew members home by using its own ships. However, over 120,000 seafarers from Third-World countries will require Schengen visas to be able to travel to relieve crews on vessels in European Union (EU) ports. This poses challenges for seafarers who will have to apply for a first-time or a renewed Schengen visa, which is estimated to be over a quarter of the workers.

With this urgent need for an emergency relief, the European Community Shipowners’ Association, the Europeans Transportation Workers’ Federation, Cruise Lines International Association and the World Shipping Council are making recommendations to European Union ministers to allow an increase in issued visas or temporary visa waivers for crew and/or temporarily accepting visas recently expired. Additional calls are made to EU Schengen member states, which are currently closed, to assist with the influx of these visa applications by seafarers.

The jointly signed appeal to the EU ministers says these emergency solutions would bring critical relief for many seafarers who have been at sea for many months, employment for those replacing them, and support for the maintenance of shipping services that will be vital to the recovery of economies in the short, medium and long term.

See The Maritime Executive, June 6, 2020.