Open letter to UN calls for crew changes to continue amid COVID-19

Security officer in Bali monitoring passenger's health from Norwegian flag cruise, MS Viking Sun, which anchored 3 km from the port to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Johanes Christo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It is paramount that governments let maritime trade continue by allowing global access of commercial ships to ports and facilitating crew changes, maritime industry leaders said in an open letter addressed to the United Nations (UN).

The letter, from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), is in response to announcements made by certain shipowners and ship management companies stating that crew change-overs will be suspended for up to a year in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

It is estimated that, each month, 100,000 seafarers need to be changed to comply with the relevant international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare, so that crew can continue to transport global trade safely.

“We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning,” the letter stated.

The letter went on to petition UN bodies that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, be treated as international “key workers”, such as airline crew and medical personnel, and be afforded special consideration.

Guy Platten, secretary-general of ICS; and Stephen Cotton, secretary-general of ITF, the signatories of the open letter, requested as a matter of urgency that the topic be added to the agenda of the appropriate high-level meetings. In addition, the UN member state national authorities are encouraged to engage with their own national shipowners’ associations and seafarers’ unions to find solutions to this growing problem.