600,000 seafarers now snared in crew change crisis: ITF

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) now estimates that there are approximately 300,000 seafarers trapped working aboard ships due to the crew change crisis caused by Covid-19 border and travel restrictions, and an equal number of unemployed seafarers waiting to join them who are ashore. 

“300,000 seafarers are trapped working aboard these vessels, and another 300,000 are facing financial ruin at home, desperate to relieve these ships and start earning wages again. Governments are the biggest barrier to resolving the growing crew change crisis,” said ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton, adding: “Seafarers and their unions are deeply concerned about the risk to life, property and the environment as the chances of a major catastrophe or catastrophes rises daily. Government’s must act before we see more people die, or worse – a major maritime disaster. Urgent action is required,”

Chair of the ITF Seafarers Section, Dave Heindel, said that globally governments are not doing near what is needed and some governments have even gone backwards.

“It is not acceptable that some countries have withdrawn shore leave for seafarers or  began restricting the number of people allowed to enter their borders each day. Those countries that rely on maritime trade, like Australia and Russia – must start pulling their weight on this issue,” Heindel said. 

The ITF stressed yesterday it will be calling out any attempts to intimidate or blacklist seafarers for either exercising their human right to stop working and be repatriated once their contract has finished.

More than two months since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) endorsed a 12-step set of protocols to ensure safe crew changes and eight days on from the UK-convened international crew change summit there are still just 15 countries that have fully opened to crew movements, according to the latest data amassed today by global port agent Inchcape Shipping Services, which has been running a crew change tracker, accessible here.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. in The Hague (Netherlands) the INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE role is to settle legal disputes submitted by IMO and ILO.

    ITF… What are you waiting for????

  2. It is sad #AllCountries Government not taking responsibility and not giving approval for #Seafarers signoff/on. we had sent many mails to #IMOHQ #ICS #guyplatten -ICSGeneral Secretary. No Government bother. #ITF taking right decision to stop #working on board if not relieved. But #stopworking will effect #Shipowners #Shipmanagers not Government. Untill #AllCountries #Shipowners #Shipmanagers go and meet the #Government heads who dnt allow #StrandedSeafarersoverseas signoff/on.

  3. A seafarers is economically as important to their countries as the army or navy of the country.
    They r the foreign currency bringers and effect economically to the particular country they belong.

    Apart from this,
    Government should themselves track the seafarers and start special seafarers flight from various countries to repatriate and sign on crew so as the economical balance of the world in large is maintained.

    Countries in the gulf amount to a very large quantity of Asian seafarers who can be repatriated and new crew signed on with shipping companies and agencies working in unison with the government.

    The procedures may b a lengthy one but possibility of signing on and signing off can be arranged with special testing stations for covid 19 at particular ports and airports in metropolitan cities of the gulf and Asian origins.

    Seafarers who are to sign off are mostly safest in this covid situation.

    A seafarers on board is mostly living a quarantined life in normal conditions as well.

    And those waiting to join if given special seafarers flight will have covid 19 free fellow passengers to fly with.

    Although the process seems a hectic one,

    But lives of seafarers are now at stake,

    And an increase in collision and or accidents on ships with heavy losses shall b in the news at plenty if no action is taken a.s.a.p ..

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