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UN must persuade governments to adopt crew change protocols or risk ‘humanitarian disaster’

22 May 2020
Press Release
The UN Secretary General has been urged by global industrial and shipping leaders to persuade his 193 member states to act urgently to avoid a “humanitarian crisis”, with over 200,000 tired, mentally-stretched seafarers currently stuck working on vessels across the globe and unable to be relieved of their duties.

In a joint letter to António Guterres, the leaders of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), urged the Secretary-General to ensure governments were adopting the 12-step set of protocols issued by the UN’s own maritime regulator, the International Maritime Organization.
 
The letter explains that “There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue.”
 
“Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”
 
The letter highlights the responsibility of governments to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in which states have a duty to protect human rights that are ‘built on the fundamental obligation of governments to protect rights-holders, which applies both under normal circumstances and at times of crisis.” 
 
While there has been engagement from some national governments, taking positive steps such as by designating seafarers essential workers. This provides a blueprint for other nations on what steps can be taken to resolve this issue.
 
As thousands of seafarers face exhaustion at the helm of critical supply routes, the clock is ticking for governments.
 
The industry had previously agreed with workers’ representatives to two contract extensions beyond the usual regulated period for time onboard due to Covid-19, the leaders say this is “not a sustainable solution”. 
 
“Time is running out. We ask action be taken immediately, ahead of 16 June 2020 - the final agreed deadline to implement crew changes for our seafarers.”
 
 
Quotes attributable to Steve Cotton, General Secretary - International Transport Workers’ Federation
 
“There are 200,000 seafarers out there right now desperate to get home to their own beds, see their families and hug their kids. They’ve been stuck on these ships, keeping global trade running since this pandemic blew up. Enough is enough – they have earned their ticket home. Now governments must make that happen.”
 
“It’s time for governments to open their hearts, and open their borders, to the world’s seafarers. The alternative is exhausted crews and the shutting down of global trade. The world can’t afford that.”
 
Quotes attributable to Guy Platten, Secretary General - International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)
 
“We have addressed the letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to signal the seriousness of this situation. Seafarers have stepped up to keep countries supplied. We now need governments to recognise this commitment by facilitating crew change for these key workers.
 
“Since the onset of the crisis, the well-being and safety of our seafarers has been our number one priority. While progress has been made, and limited numbers of crew changes have occurred, there is a pressing need to increase the speed and scale at which national governments adopt the crew change protocols.
 
Every day that governments fail to adopt these protocols, and fail to enable crew changes, they neglect to recognise the sacrifice made by seafarers on behalf of their populations.”
 
Contact:
ICS: Duncan Bray, +44 (0) 208 638 8753 or ICS@woodrowcommunications.com
ITF: Luke Menzies, +61 433 889 844 or media@itf.org.uk


Notes for editors
 
Background on Crew Change:
 
As travel restrictions swept across global economies, trade continued thanks to 1.2 million seafarers onboard ships across the world. This commitment to keeping supplies of food, fuel and goods, including vital medical supplies, has enabled governments to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic in their countries. What stopped however, was the ability of nation states to allow crews to safely rotate on and off ships at ports and return home to their countries of origin. 
 
Having identified crew change as the most significant threat facing supply chains at the onset of the crisis {LINK}, the shipping industry converged to produce a set of globally applicable protocols for national governments. 
 
Signatories

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) whose member shipping companies operate over 80% of the world's merchant tonnage
 
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) representing around 250 million workers around the world
 

Comment

Pych
4 months 4 weeks ago

Yeaaaappp, and what action will be done at real? A few days ago the management of company advised to me stay happy and positive. Nice!!!! I'm on the edge of suicide in this prison! I expected change from beginning of 2020. Just one announcement after another...stop traiding of vessels, stop support to owners and governments. Let they fill themself like I'm in prison without food that I like and my family. It's shame for all seafarers to be nobody for all other world.

Inderjit kumar
4 months 4 weeks ago

And here are we trading in High risk areas for our charters and owners. Everything is getting opened and eased up in my country but not for us because they don’t know we exist. Company is waiting for seamen’s ticket and running flights to every country’s but can’t afford charter flights. They saved hell lot of money on crew change for last 3 months but what we are getting nothing but sympathy and condolences. They will tell us to be ready for any SIRE or PSC Inspection, irony is safety of crew is not there in the books.

Manos
4 months 4 weeks ago

As usual nobody gives a shit about us, human rights have gone to hell, this is forced Labour without our consent. It is time to show them what we can do as a seamans, the world cannot leave in our backs we have the power to move and to stop the global economy, So stop playing with us and let us leave like human beings and not like slaves, enough is enough!!!!

Engineer
4 months 3 weeks ago

Very nice message. But what will be the actions of ITF after 16.06.2020. We work at Carribian sea. All coutries still close for how month nobody say. Every time we receive message to wait. How much we must wait. Month,two,three,four. Somebody stay one year on board. Untill now we don't se any actions. Nobody like to do nothing. How many seafarers must die to start crew change?Companies try keep money. Nobody like to spend more money for crew change. Because we are just slaves. For what these many maritime organizations to help us. Or it is only on the paper.

Seafarer
4 months 3 weeks ago

How long will you lie to us!?! When will be real actions? You betrayed us!!! You destroyed us!!! We must,must,must...and we are slaves here as well. It's so nice to sit at office and declare about risk. You aren't in risk when I think that there just one way to jump overboard for freedom. Company's are ignoring us and you also. Punish finally these bastards!!!

Master
4 months 2 weeks ago

I see only one way to force them move. It is sabotage of vettings, PSC, interrupt vessel's operations in ports, and stop vessels at seas just for 1-3 days.