UN agencies join call for seafarer ‘key worker’ status to facilitate crew changes

IMO headquarters in London. Credit: IMO

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), have joined shipping industry bodies in a call to governments to ensure crew changes occur globally and seafarers are given ‘key worker’ status during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It is estimated from mid-June 2020 that 150,000 crew members a month will require international flights to ensure crew changes take place, advised the ICAO, IMO, ILO in a joint statement. Around half will be joining other vessels while the remainder will need to be repatriated to their home countries.

The three organisations have followed suit with other shipping organisations, such as the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Workers Federation, in calling for seafarers to be designated as ‘key workers’ and be made free from travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19. This will not only allow global trade to occur safely but ensure the wellbeing of seafarers, many of whom have been working for months on end, unable to return home, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The UK government has already provided key worker status to its seafarers, and have not subjected them to the 14-day quarantine restrictions when travelling to and from a vessel. Other governments need to follow suit and shipping organisation representatives have stated that the responsibility now lies in the hands of governments for these issues to be resolved.

Crew changes, are however, being carried out, though in limited capacity. Initiatives such as InterManager’s ‘Champions League’ table showcases companies carrying out successful crew changes in the hope it will encourage other ship managers to do the same. “The shipping industry is now the number one customer of the airlines,” said captain Kuba Szymanski, secretary general of InterManager. “Some shipping companies are chartering planes for crew change, when this cannot be done directly buses and taxis can be used to get crew home.”