ITF warns COVID-19 is exacerbating existing maritime safety problems

A tired Filipino deck officer on deck of a vessel. Credit: Igor Kardasov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

An International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) report has warned that shipping must stop its ‘bad habits’ that are being exacerbated by COVID-19 or it risks endangering crew, vessels, and the environment.

The report, Beyond The Limit: How COVID-19 Corner-Cutting Places Too Much Risk in the International Shipping System, was published on 20 September. It highlighted the existing maritime safety issues seafarers face that the ITF fears will continue, or worsen, post the pandemic, including; a further reduction of safe manning numbers; a decrease in rest hours and shore relief; and increased responsibility and liability for crew during remote survey procedures.

“Manning levels have been reduced as crew become hard to change and be refreshed; hours of rest are being ignored and replaced with non-paid hours of work and compliance performance,” said the report. “Systems crucial for the safe operation of the world’s shipping fleet are being disregarded on a daily basis through superficial remote inspections.”

The report recommended that when determining numbers of crew for vessels the “safe manning” perspective should be focussed on, rather than the “minimum”. To avoid safety incidents due to fatigue, the report stated that shipowners should take proactive steps to ensure time-off owed to seafarers is spent in adequate facilities on board. The ITF also suggested that the shipping companies create guidelines on the use of remote surveys during COVID-19 and roles and responsibilities allocated to crew members. Importantly, the report noted that rest and work hours should not be violated with the addition of these responsibilities.

“We’re very concerned that during the present COVID-19 pandemic, government regulators in flag and port states have chosen to suspend the application and enforcement of these critical rules [on maritime safety]. Each breach of each rule adds undue risk to the international shipping industry, and undermines the international rules system that delivers these regulations to us,” concluded the report.

Read the full report here.