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Crew change crisis a threat to global trade, supply chains, warns IMO

The crew change crisis needs to be urgently resolved as it is not just a threat to the well-being of seafarers but also to the normal flow of global trade, supply chains, and maritime transport, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The IMO in a release on September 22 called on all governments to take urgent action to resolve the humanitarian and safety crisis faced by the international shipping community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee adopted on September 21 a resolution urging specific action to address the issue, including designating seafarers as key workers with access to the necessary safe travel arrangements.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said, “This resolution should help ensure integrity of employment and human rights of seafarers and, consequentially, minimize disruptions to global trade, supply chains, efficient operation of maritime transport and ensure the continued movement of food and livestock, products and essential goods by sea.”

More than 300,000 seafarers are currently stranded on board ships, with some now having been working for more than 17 months at sea, without a break.

A further 300,000 workers are unable to join ships and potentially face unemployment due to government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine measures in different parts of the world.

“The crisis threatens the well-being of seafarers and puts navigational safety in peril,” said the IMO.

Business leaders are warning that the seafarer crisis could soon interrupt normal flows of international trade, since more than 80% of goods including food, fuel, medical supplies are transported by sea.

The resolution expressed deep concern about the significant challenges being faced by the global shipping community to effect crew changes and repatriation of seafarers, recognizing the crucial role of seafarers in supplying vital goods.

The resolution urged governments and relevant national authorities to designate seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ providing an essential service to facilitate safe and unhindered movement for embarking or disembarking a vessel.

It also asked governments to consider legal possibilities for accepting internationally recognized documentation carried by seafarers as evidence of their status as ʺkey workers,ʺ and for the purpose of their travel and movement for crew change.

Its other recommendations are:

  • Consider temporary measures including waivers, exemptions or other relaxations from any visa or documentary requirements that might normally apply to seafarers
  • Encourage the use of prevention measures, such as tests on crew before embarkation to reduce the risk of crew infections and facilitate safe and quick crew changes during the pandemic
  • Provide seafarers with immediate access to medical care, medical facilities and facilitate medical evacuation of seafarers in need of urgent medical attention; and address the situation of seafarers who are facing expiration of essential medical prescriptions

Photo By Maxime Felder

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