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The plight of seafarers in the time of COVID-19

Image credit: Texas International Freight

At any given time there are over 1.5 million seafarers around the world. China, the Philippines and Indonesia are estimated to be the three largest countries for all seafarers (officers and ratings).

The Philippines is the world's biggest supplier of ratings (these are mariners without a certificate of competence and assist in all other tasks that can arise during a voyage, such as cleaning the ship or repairing brokes ropes).

The current global crisis has negatively affected crewing operations with sometimes-tragic results.

Shipping crew are being delayed on board and not able to be repatriated in a timely fashion once their contract is completed. Given that the contract lengths of some of the Asian crew members (especially ratings) can be 8, 9, or even 10 months in length and that the current situation has meant delays of up to 3 or 4 (and potentially even more) months onboard, many crew members are currently passing over a year onboard.

Coronavirus border closures and government-enforced lockdowns have caused around 200,000 seafarers around the world to be stranded onboard their designated ships, essentially in a state of limbo.

Seafarers around the world are caught up in what the UN warns is a growing humanitarian crisis responsible for several suicides.

These individuals are people with families, children and plans, and just like everyone else, have had to make sacrifices to better their families lives by working onboard seagoing vessels. Now, they are the victims of the inflexibility and lack of cooperation of airlines, airport authorities and the various governments around the world that refuse to adjust ever-changing standards and rules by which crewing departments back offshore can work with and get seafarers home.

The stress and dismay caused to the seafarers and their families are incalculable. Also, the fatigue created by extending their time onboard is directly connected to more accidents, as concentration levels fall.

The ultimate and most disturbing consequence of all of this is the increase of onboard crew suicides. Although there are no official records concerning crew suicides, it is a well-known phenomenon.

The failures of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and many other international and national bodies, to come together and solve this challenge are clear and evident.

Occasional announcements and statements of support have been made, but until now, nothing of real substance that will effectively help the situation and get more crew easily on and off their place of employment has been put into action.


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