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Enough is enough: World’s seafarers will now exercise right to leave ships amid Covid-19 failures

news Press Release

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliated seafarers’ unions will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.

The new approach, which could be highly disruptive to global trade, comes after insufficient action by governments to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’, exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions and facilitate repatriation of around 200,000 seafarers who have been caught up in the crew change crisis, said ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair Dave Heindel.

“We are sending a very strong message to seafarers: you have selflessly extended and extended your contracts to do your part to keep critical supplies flowing around the world during this pandemic,”

“Some seafarers have been onboard for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family,” said Heindel

ITF President and Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin reiterated the repeated warnings given to governments from unions and industry of this unfolding humanitarian crisis: “We have urged them on the consequences of tired, fatigued, depressed crew – to trade, to the environment. We have worked with industry and the international community to offer solutions.”

“But enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home. No more contract extensions.” said Crumlin.

ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton said all that governments need to do is make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions, and allow these key workers to transit through their territories and return to their families. A few small changes by national governments would allow seafarers to get home, and be relieved by a fresh crew, he said.

“If a seafarers wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honour their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation,”

“If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers,”

“Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough,” said Steve Cotton.


Background on the crew change crisis

The ITF, our affiliates, and our social partners have been clear in our warnings about the consequences of governments and their officials ignoring the escalating crew change crisis: 

19 March: ITF agreed to crew contract extensions due to unprecedented pandemic, where crew consent

7 April: ITF and employers told G20 leaders to facilitate essential movement of seafarers

9 April: Maritime unions and employers called on governments to identify seafarers as key workers and facilitate crew changes

27 April: ITF, employers called out governments for denying medical assistance ashore for seafarers

6 May: Industry-union 12-step solution for crew change is adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which starts advocating for the protocols to governments and internationally

14 May: The ITF and Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) representing employers, including the International Maritime Employers Council, release a joint statement calling for government action and set a final 30 day implementation deadline to June 15

22 May: The UN Secretary General was urged by global union and shipping leaders to governments to act urgently

28 May: ILO, IMO and ICAO urge governments to act on crew change, ‘key worker’ status

12 June: UN backs ITF, international calls for key workers status over crew change crisis


Resources for seafarers:

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and our affiliated seafarers’ unions will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.

Here are the resources and supports we have made available to them:

Media Contact: +44 20 7940 9282 |

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