Governments still hiding behind force majeure rules to deny critically ill seafarers medical access

Governments continue to hide behind force majeure rules to deny critically ill seafarers medical access ashore, something lobby group the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has demanded ends now.

Publicly reported stories throughout the pandemic include seafarers with broken limbs being asked to remain onboard and take painkillers, a chief engineer vomiting blood not allowed to disembark, and even the body of a ship’s master who suffered a fatal heart attack being refused repatriation.

Citing force majeure, governments have bypassed fundamental standards on seafarer wellbeing, such as those contained in the Maritime Labour Convention. This is despite the International Labour Organization declaring in a recent report that given that almost two years had passed since the beginning of the pandemic force majeure should not be regarded as a valid reason to deprive seafarers of their rights.

Governments, many of whom are yet to recognise seafarers as key workers despite encouragement to do so by the United Nations, have relied on broad ranging force majeure defences to deny seafarers medical treatment.

ICS’s principal legal director Kiran Khosla said that the ILO’s Committee of Experts has made it clear that governments can no longer hide behind a so-called act of God to deny seafarers these fundamental rights.

“Throughout the pandemic, shipowners, with their ships and crew, have been keeping the world supplied with food, fuel and medicine. But governments have been too slow to recognise seafarers as key workers, harming both their health and the health of global supply chains. Two years after the pandemic began, governments have no excuse for hiding behind force majeure,” Khosla said.

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. Unless seafarers take matters in their own hands nothing will happen.
    All these associations & so called experts are complete utter waste of time from imo to all the rest.
    Seafarers wake up !!
    If u do not help yourself nobody will help u.

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