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Beyond the limit of safe shipping - ITF General Secretary’s UN address

24 Sep 2020
Speech by ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton at the UN High-Level Side Event on Covid-19 and Maritime Crew Changes, 24 September 2020.

The ITF and our affiliates have been striving for practical crew change solutions from the outset of the global pandemic, when governments implemented protective measures. With the impact on international travel, we could see the potential impact on the world’s seafarers.

We would like to thank our social partners in the International Chamber of Shipping and the Joint Negotiating Group representing ship owners, together with the tremendous support from the ILO and IMO, on the development of protocols that can and should be adopted to move seafarers to and from ships.

We have worked directly with the governments of countries like those represented here.

We have, through our worldwide inspectorate, provided support and assisted thousands of seafarers to get repatriated.

Unfortunately, this is not enough.

Despite all our collective efforts, the problem is still escalating.

Nearly 400,000 seafarers are now way beyond their tour of duty. Their hardship is growing.

Our seafaring workforce and the international shipping system are both at breaking point.

Many seafarers have expressed concerns about the consequences if they raised their voices about their personal fatigue and the impact of the safety of the crew, ship and cargo - for fear of losing future job opportunities, commonly known as blacklisting. It is unacceptable in 2020!

This unacceptable situation is bordering on forced labour. Seafarers and all responsible companies engaged in global supply chains have a right to demand urgent government intervention to end this crisis.

We commend firms like Unilever for their leadership and responsibility for the health and wellbeing of seafarers and for their commitment to see this crisis resolved.

The ITF has supported high-level events where governments have praised seafarers for their critical role during the pandemic.

We have had great statements, but statements alone do not get seafarers on and off ships.

We need governments to recognise seafarers as key workers providing essential services.

We need governments to deliver pragmatic solutions for this deadlock, which can only happen through active collaboration between government departments.

Heads of states, please, please, please cut out inter-department difference. We need you to take control!

Before I conclude, I want to be clear that we are calling for action on crew change, but we need to make sure that shipping and global supply chains that depend on it do not make Covid-19 a justification for short cuts that risk lives and the environment.    

Our report Beyond the Limit highlights our growing concerns surrounding

  • Remote inspections;
  • Certificate extensions;
  • Rubber-stamping unsafe manning levels;

Yes, it is a very difficult environment and we again commend our partners for their actions. Together with our colleagues at the UN Secretary General offices and the UN Global Compact, we must stay focused and continue to work together to deliver solutions that show the world’s seafarers that we hear their pleas and quickly solve these unacceptable problems.

The global economy needs shipping. Shipping needs seafarers!

Seafarers are tired and frustrated. They simply want to go home.

Finally, we say ‘enough is enough’.

This extraordinary situation needs extraordinary solutions!

We want governments to act. Today, on World Maritime Day.

Thank you.