Day of the Seafarer: IMO increases call on governments to give crews key worker status

The US push for consensus on a sulphur cap “pragmatic approach” begins at IMO headquarters next week. Credit: IMO
IMO headquarters. Credit: IMO

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is using its annual Day of the Seafarer campaign, on 25 June, to call on Member States to recognise seafarers as key workers and support them with travel assistance.

Kitack Lim, secretary general of the IMO, said on a 24 June webinar that the Day of the Seafarer, set aside annually to celebrate the vital work seafarers undertake, resonates more than ever this year and showcases the importance of seafarers in the global economy.

In his opening address, Lim thanked the work of all seafarers in keeping global trade moving and recognised that even in good times seafarers are the unsung heroes of the global economy.

“Seafarers’ work is physically and mentally demanding, lonely and remote, but this year we are in an unprecedented situation. Medicines food fuels and PPE are all delivered by seafarers even as COVID-19 has gripped the world,” said Lim. “But the crisis has led to trickier working conditions for seafarer including uncertainties and difficulties to port access, crew changes and repatriation”.

The plight of crew members has been a prominent feature in the mainstream media, with an estimated 200,000 seafarers stuck at sea or unable to join a vessel there has been knock on effects on mental health, wellbeing, and even in some cases an increase in suicides.

One seafarer, who wanted to remain anonymous, talked in depth to SAS about how they were already three months past their contract, and their repatriation plans were constantly being cancelled as the ship management company could not get the reliever out to replace them. The uncertainty of when they would be able to return home was having a negative impact on their morale and mental wellbeing.

Several other seafarers reached out to SAS anonymously, stating they have been onboard between three to six months past their initial contract lengths. In response, some crew members have stated that their management companies have attempted to find ways to alleviate stress on board by increasing the connectivity and internet bandwidth on their vessels. Others have increased the budget for crew to get more snacks and soft drinks onboard to increase morale and as gestures of goodwill and understanding.

While some crew changes are occurring globally, often through chartered flights, it is not a sustainable model. For the situation to change, multiple voices in shipping have united, stating that now is the time for governments to finally get involved. “Seafarers are on the frontline of this global fight, they deserve our thanks but they also need and deserve quick and decisive humanitarian actions by governments everywhere, not just during this pandemic, but at all times,” commented Lim.

Lim went on to describer the work of seafarers as heroic during the pandemic and emphasised that the Day of the Seafarer campaign is to encourage the world to treat them with the respect they deserve even after the pandemic has concluded. Lim called on all IMO member states to recognise seafarers as key workers, and provide them with support and travel assistance and acknowledge the sacrifices they make and issues they face.

The 2020 campaign slogan is #Seafarersarekeyworkers. For news and coverage of the Day of the Seafarer follow the hashtag on Twitter.

Due to technical difficulties the webinar was cut short and will be re-scheduled soon.