IMO issues 12-step plan to get crews home

To assist governments to put in place coordinated procedures to facilitate the safe movement of seafarers, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a 12-step plan to 174 member states yesterday, providing them with a roadmap to free seafarers from their Covid-19 lockdown and allow appropriate exemptions for them to join or leave ships.

The 55-page roadmap has been advanced by a broad coalition of seafarer unions, and international shipping industry associations, with input from airline industry representatives, international organisations, and the insurance sector, to provide a comprehensive blueprint of how governments can facilitate crew changeovers and resolve safety concerns throughout the entire process.

In less than two weeks’ time, approximately 150,000 merchant seafarers will need to be changed over to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, with tens of thousands currently trapped onboard ships across the globe due to the continuing imposition of travel restrictions.

The protocols clearly set out the responsibility of governments, shipowners, transport providers and seafarers. The protocols also provide a framework to develop robust procedures that can be adopted worldwide to ensure that trade can keep flowing and seafarers can be relieved.

Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), commented yesterday: “Today seafarers’ unions, industry and the ILO and IMO are jointly calling on governments worldwide to put an end to hardships faced by the 150,000 seafarers currently stranded and pave a way for them to return home.

“This is about governments recognising the critical role that seafarers play in global supply chains, recognising them as key workers, and providing immediate and consistent exceptions from COVID-19 restrictions to allow crew changeovers.

“International seafarers are bearing the burden first-hand as governments turn a blind eye to the ‘forgotten sector’. The ITF, ICS and IMO have a clear message, governments cannot continue with a mentality of out of sight, out of mind, and we strongly urge governments to use this roadmap to act now before we suffer more serious consequences.”

The 12-step solution provides governments with the global framework to facilitate changeovers of ships’ crews, including the lack of available flights.

The Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC) in the UK yesterday gave details of the plight of seafarers who “feel like prisoners” aboard ship as they are unable to return home.

LSC CEO John Wilson said he has seen a large number of Filipino and Indian seafarers under huge strain as a result of flight bans into and out of their home countries.

“These seafarers are effectively prisoners on their own ships,” Wilson said. “The pressure on their mental health is huge and this exacerbates the risk of accident. We urge the major organisations that are fighting for seafarers, such as the International Maritime Organization, which have already done so much to champion and protect seafarers, to continue to exert pressure on India and the Philippines to allow seafarers to fly home. With so many seafarers coming from these countries they simply must not be forgotten about.”

In related news, the Cyprus shipping deputy ministry has announced a new process to facilitate crew changes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Crew changes for vessels are possible in Cyprus provided certain conditions are met. The relevant decrees issued by the Ministry of Health also permit the long-term stay in anchorage of vessels.

Steven Jones, the founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, discussed with Splash earlier today the mood of crews around the world in the latest episode in the Maritime CEO Leader Series powered by Ocean Technologies Group.


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. This happiness guy shud go talk with the airlines and tell them get the flights going.
    There are plenty of owners who want to relieve the guys onboard on completion of contract but if there are no planes what does this happiness joker propose ?????
    May b divert all the ships to India & Phillipines ??

    1. So, for you the guys imprisoned onboard for you to have your toilet paper at home are now Jokers… You blame the airlines and not the blacklisting of Shipowners doing business as usual instead for imposing black sailing to government port and airline doctrines over and away from WHO recommendations and broadly accepted health practices which are applied to their own citizens repatriating and being at home.
      If worse come to worst those Jokers Masters will anchor their ships off port limits and deliver no cargo for your supermarket.

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