Pradeep Chawla from Anglo-Eastern urges governments to get a move on resolving the crew change issue.
Covid-19 has caused unmeasurable suffering to people all around the world and the crisis is ongoing.
Amongst all the chaos, cargoes of grain, coal, oil, medical supplies are being quietly transported on ships.
There are around 53,000 such ships in the world that carry about 95 % of the world trade. Around 11bn tonnes of cargo are transported around the world each year.
These ships are operated by around 1.5m seafarers. Like doctors and nurses the seafarers have continued to work day and night silently, diligently and at great risk to their own health to keep world trade going.
Unlike doctors and nurses though, the seafarers stay onboard the ship, away from their families for around six to eight months in a year.
A lot of them now have been onboard for nearly 12 months, unable to get back to their families due to the travel restrictions in various countries.
Seafarers who have had tragedies at home of loved ones dying are unable to get home. They have been unable to reach to their families who are also undergoing the stresses of lockdowns in all countries.
While the world leaders are indeed busy with the overall problems brought about by the pandemic, they must realizse that without the help of the seafarers the suffering of the world would be much worse.
If the ships were to stop even for a day, the shortages of essential commodities like food, medical supplies, heating oil and gas would cause immense disruptions to our daily lives.
The shipping industry has urged governments to recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’ and to allow them to join and leave ships in order to keep the world supply chain going.
The IMO published a circular on May 5 to all member states titled “Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic”.
Joint industry groups have been issuing statements urging the countries to take action.
Sadly very few countries have reacted on adopting the protocols.
The ground reality is that in addition to slow reaction from the countries, a multitude of local laws exist in every country that cause impediments to allow the joining and repatriation of seafarers.
The mental health of seafarers is suffering.
A clear sign is that calls to ISWAN have tripled in April 2020 compared to the previous year. Over 7,000 seafarers have reached out for help.
This is in addition to calls that are coming in to internal company welfare hotlines.
Would societies in every country not notice if something similar was happening to other key workers such as doctors, nurses, police or firefighters?
The plight of the seafarers and the maritime industry deserves to be noticed by governments.
The maritime industry is doing its duty to keep the world supply chains moving. The governments need to do their part sooner than later.
Movement of seafarers needs to be allowed now.