Make the world’s seafarers Global Key Workers

At the time of going to press, our world as we knew it changed, in some respects, radically. The current year was barely a third of the way through when it became abundantly clear that 2020 was going to be unlike any other in recent history. By the end of June, both 2020 and its signature event, COVID-19, were already being compared with some of the deadliest public health disasters mankind has ever experienced and especially the (so-called Spanish Flu) pandemic of 1918 caused by the H1N1 virus.

Change was as radical as it was swift. And abnormal became the new normal, all in less time than human gestation. Indeed, the editorial theme and planned content of this edition of PORTSIDE changed twice during that period as circumstances and priorities in the shipping industry caused shifts, curtailment, and responses that were neither planned nor anticipated just six months previously. Port managers were suddenly called upon to develop protocols and initiate behavioural change to protect staff and port users…even as they addressed the possible impacts on their own families.

And as inconvenient and uncertain as the year 2020 has been for port operators and port managers in the Caribbean, there was very little they would have experienced in their work environment that could equate to the mental agony and personal vulnerability that seafarers would have experienced this year.

To them we dedicate the 18th edition of PORTSIDE CARIBBEAN magazine.

A matter of urgency

PORTSIDE CARIBBEAN stands with the International Maritime Organization and the global maritime community in calling on all governments to address, as a matter of urgency, the promulgation of all the legislation, decrees, regulations and protocols necessary to immediately formalise designation of registered seafarers as Global Key Workers.

Of the many sovereign states and territories in the Caribbean, at the time of going to press, only Jamaica had completed the process of making seafarers Key Workers. However, to ensure stability and dependability in global supply chains, it is imperative that all countries designate registered seafarers as Key Workers to facilitate them getting to work and back home after weeks and months at sea. They are human beings; real people whose dangerous jobs in bringing us food, medicines, necessities and machines take them away from home and family. They deserve the rights and privileges afforded all human beings.

“Governments must acknowledge that seafarers continue to function providing essential supplies despite the pandemic, hence the strong urge from IMO for governments to consider seafarers as essential workers…many seem unaware that seafarers exist…thus IMO continues to urge governments to respond in the recommended manner to the seafarer crisis,” said Colin P. Young, IMO Regional Maritime Adviser in the Caribbean.

There are a range of issues and sorry outcomes that Key Worker designation would immediately correct or alleviate.

A ship captain in Trinidad and Tobago’s waters recently suffered a heart attack. It is understood that getting him to hospital ashore in Trinidad required some five hours of negotiations (despite seafarers being “low risk” for transmission of the coronavirus), because of his immigration status (or lack of it) in that jurisdiction. Another example occurred when Barbados opened its borders to passenger flights. A few ships immediately seized the opportunity to divert off route to facilitate crew changes. But, going off route is an expensive undertaking in shipping.

We end this call-to-action editorial by mentioning a few sobering thoughts from this edition of PORTSIDE CARIBBEAN:

  • without dependable and efficient global supply chains, half the world’s population would starve; the other half would freeze to death
  • the only thing that a ship can do without seafarers is rot.
  • without seafarers and ships plying the high seas, there is no global supply chain. []


  • First published September 21, 2020.


Mike Jarrett, Editor-in-chief