Seafarers ‘stuck at sea’ a threat to global stability

Make them global-essential ‘Key Workers’

2020 October 01: As the sun rose on World Maritime Day 2020, the fate of almost one million seafarers still hung in the balance. They had been enduring mental anguish and fear caused by displacement, isolation, solitude, fatigue and homesickness for months with no end in sight. As they suffered, concern for their plight and the obvious implications for global stability became increasingly evident and worrisome.

It was September 24. And on this World Maritime Day, many seafarers were already logging nine months of seven-days-a-week work without relief.

The 75th United Nations General Assembly had gathered virtually. And what was described as a “high-level” initiative involving multilateral and governmental entities as well as several global trading conglomerates was organized to put pressure on political leaders in the UN to urgently address the precariousness of the situation facing seafarers ‘stuck at sea’. The documented comments from the various participants in that ‘high level’ sidebar event are instructive insofar as they summarise the plight of seafarers as PORTSIDE CARIBBEAN went to press:

  • The numbers of crew members whose work contracts were already extended by several months continued to rise despite pleas to governments to designate them as essential key workers.
  • The present situation poses serious threats to global stability… threatens trade and maritime safety.
  • World leaders must immediately address the clear and present threat to global supply chains.
  • Some have been at sea for 17 months, well beyond the 11-month limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
  • Besides the 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea, another 400,000 are unable to join ships.
  • “… how you would feel, if you had to work every day, for 12 hours, with no weekends, without seeing your loved ones, and trapped at sea … with no idea of when you will be repatriated.”
  • Seafarers, overly fatigued and mentally exhausted, are being asked to continue to operate ships … working more than 60,000 cargo ships to deliver vital goods, foods and medicines.
  • Ship safety hangs in the balance and the safety of navigation is in peril.
  • Seafarers are exhausted and simply cannot continue working on board indefinitely.
  • Seafarers should not be the collateral victims in this pandemic.

Transport and maritime ministers from several countries, including Canada, France, Kenya, Panama and the Philippines, strongly encouraged other governments to: (a) join them in designating seafarers as essential workers in global supply chains; and, (b) implement protocols for safe and efficient movement of seafarers across national borders. []