An influential group of unions has called for ships to be detained in ports if seafarers have been onboard longer than international treaties allow.
Marking World Maritime Day today, the Nautilus Federation of 22 maritime unions said seafarers are being denied their human rights during the pandemic with as many as 300,000 stuck at sea beyond the agreed 11-month maximum service.
The ease by which flag states have ignored the rights of seafarers is a stain on the entire maritime industry
The failure of governments, industry and flag states to name seafarers as key workers and get them off ships and home to loved ones has led to a humanitarian crisis that can no longer be tolerated, the federation said in a joint statement.
“This is a wholly predicted – yet avoidable – humanitarian crisis, and we call for action against governments who deny seafarers their fundamental rights,” Nautilus Federation director Mark Dickinson said.
“Maritime and shipping professionals, at sea and on inland waterways, have had enough. We will continue to push for an international solution, together as Nautilus Federation affiliates and as affiliates of the International Transport Workers Federation, so that the key workers of the world’s seas and rivers are able to get to and from their vessels without delay.
“Should that international solution cause port states to detain growing numbers of vessels until seafarers are repatriated, the industry and governments will need to prepare for the disruption this would cause to global supply chains.”
We might be the engine of global trade, but even as a humanitarian crisis has unfolded at sea our voice has not been heard
The unions have drawn attention to the inability for some of the world’s largest flags to enforce the fundamental rights of seafarers during the Covid-19 pandemic. While many of these flags of convenience quickly ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), the “ease and speed by which many flag states subsequently ignored the rights of seafarers is a stain on the entire maritime industry” the federation union said.
“The major flag states have the ability to resolve the crew change crisis by refusing to allow seafarers on their ships to be denied their fundamental human rights,” the unions said, calling on port states to assist flag states by enforcing the provisions of the MLC and detain ships that do not comply.
With the crew change crisis now extending beyond six months, shippers are finally making their voices heard. Big name brands such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble are among consumer companies belatedly urging world leaders to resolve the plight of hundreds of thousands of seafarers stuck on ships.
Chief executives of around 30 household consumer brands, from retailer Carrefour to beverage maker Heineken, have signed an open letter calling for measures to allow more crew changes at ports, ensure the safety of overworked seafarers and make sure supply chains don’t use forced labour.
The letter was sent to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday ahead of a General Assembly web conference on seafarers.
To ensure the supply of critical goods and protect seafarers’ human rights, the CEOs are calling for measures that include introducing a robust test and trace regime to ensure the safety of seafarers and crew changes; limiting any unavoidable crew contract extensions to the next scheduled port where crew change is possible and/or diverting course to a port where crew changes can be arranged within the International Labour Organization’s guidelines.
While ostensibly the theme for September 24’s annual United Nations-backed World Maritime Day is about sustainability, vocal names within shipping have focused their comments today on the ongoing plight of stuck seafarers around the globe.
Writing on LinkedIn, Rajesh Unni, founder of Singapore-based shipmanager Synergy Group, suggested now is the time to face up to shipping’s “inability to shape and direct policies that impact our ability to conduct business safely and efficiently”.
Discussing maritime’s “echo chamber”, Unni wrote: “When we called on governments to help our seafarers and classify them as #keyworkers, our pleadings largely fell on deaf ears. We might be the engine of #globaltrade, but even as a #humanitariancrisis has unfolded at sea our voice has not been heard.”
Amid alarming reports of growing mental distress at the prolonged periods at sea for many, another former seafarer, Manish Singh, now the CEO of Ocean Technologies Group, has launched a petition online aiming to hold governmental authorities to account in doing their role to create reasonable travel corridors to get the world’s seafafers home. Splash readers can sign the petition here.