ICS urges governments to recognise crew as key workers

Crew need to be recognised as key workers to limit the impact to global trade. Credit: Ed Vroom

A leading maritime figure has urged governments around the world to put seafarers on the list of key workers amid fears that the global supply chain remains in danger unless steps are taken.

Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), made the call during a webinar, hosted by Windward Maritime Analytics, on protecting maritime borders against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Platten said that moves made by shipowners to extend crew contracts that would have them on board for a year were simply not a solution for any period of time.

“There are an estimated 200,000 seafarers who need to move around the world to relieve crew,” he said. “At the moment, seafarers have stepped up to the plate and they have agreed to extend their contracts while solutions can be found to enable the transfer of crew. Governments have to put seafarers on the key worker list, given their role in ensuring the global supply chain. Doing so will enable systems to move them to where they are needed to be put in place.”

Platten went on to say that the current crisis may well last for many months and the situation as it stands is not sustainable. He added that many ports have been put in quarantine measures that restricted crews’ ability to leave a vessel.

However, he said that it was the crew that were in danger of being infected by shore-based staff rather than the other way around.

“There have been no reports of any seafarers contracting coronavirus outside of the cruise sector,” he added. “There should be a restriction on shore-based staff on board and a reduction in any interaction between the shore staff and the crew.”

With India now in lockdown, Platten said the impact on global shipping was potentially significant.

“India provides a huge number of seafarers and maritime staff; this decision is likely to have a huge impact on the maritime sector.

“The ICS has seen thousands of Indian seafarers who are stranded, and keen to get home to their families, for whom they are naturally worried. They have been at sea for many months and do pose a risk, but cannot get home.”