Alfonso Castillero from the Liberian Registry on the need for authorities across the board to collaborate to see us through this crisis.
We are in uncharted waters. Not only uncharted, but extremely rough with a strong invisible gale blowing across the entire globe. On the other side of this storm, the world will need to wake up to the fact that a large part of our much-needed global economic and social recovery from the massive disruption caused by Covid-19 will be driven by sea trade and seafarers. All nations will need to do their utmost to facilitate the survival and smooth operation of the maritime supply chain. Nations will need goods such as food, medical supplies, equipment, and natural resources to get the world’s economic engine, and associated jobs, back up and running.
This global pandemic and subsequent economic depression are impacting all our lives, but while our brave doctors, nurses, and scientists work on the cure, and our vital workers around the world like police, EMT’s, firefighters, truck drivers, grocery store workers, and farmers (to only name a few) go out onto the front lines to ensure our most elemental needs are met, it will be the seafarers who deliver the recovery. We need to encourage the port states to treat seafarers the same as they treat first responders and other essential services by allowing special permits to embark and disembark while, of course, taking the necessary health precautions to protect their own citizens. But an outright ban on crew changes will only hurt us all.
Right now, due to the world being locked down, our seafarers are either trapped onshore, away from their livelihood, or are aboard ships, in the hundreds of thousands. They cannot disembark after months away from their families, nor can their replacement crews be dispatched far and wide to meet the ships and take the conn from these brave, yet unseen and underappreciated mariners.
What we as an industry need to do is 1) continue to unite in support for our seafarers and ensure their ability to embark and disembark from vessels in order to facilitate crew changes; and 2) put pressure on the regulators and governing bodies to take action that reflects the operational needs of the industry and seafarers.
This is a unique opportunity for the IMO to come together and take the charge at the governmental level, to put their politics aside and be a true advocate for our industry. I am happy to see Circular Letter 4204/Add.6, dated 27 March, in which the IMO calls for access to berth in ports; measures to facilitate crew changes in ports; measures to facilitate port operations; and measures to ensure health protections in ports. We need to see these through.
Industry partners need to remain vigilant. It heartens met to see ship managers, ship owners, and other industry stakeholders taking a stand. I am pleased to see ports, like Singapore, move in a positive direction, despite all the difficulty, to make sure that this issue is addressed.
Another concern is with consistency and coordination across the Port State Control function. We have seen nations take some very proactive steps and measures, a recent example being the USCG saying they will not detain any vessels for crew members serving aboard with expired documents or longer service periods than agreed to in their SEA’s due to the inability to execute crew changes. However, this will not always be the case, and there will be PSC regimes that take advantage of the COVID-19 restrictions, and use this pandemic as grounds to continue their unscrupulous ways to take advantage of the vessels and seafarers in their ports by using PSC for collecting facilitation payments. This must be prevented.
We, as a Flag State, feel that we have put in place the necessary measures to ensure our crew with expired documents are covered from this risk, and we are pleased to see that other States are following suit. As a public-private partnership, we have the flexibility to be able to adapt quickly, and implement necessary change instantly. We hope that other flags around the world also take this position to protect our seafarers, by taking the necessary action. We immediately saw these issues coming and issued the necessary authorizations, extensions, dispensations, and certification for seafarers with expired documents. We leveraged our long experience with technology, allowed remote surveys aboard, instituted electronic vessel closing and documentation, and implemented immediate instruction for the responsible extension of surveys and certificates. This was done to protect the seafarers, protect the vessels, and ensure that they were armed for anything they may face.
We cannot let allow our valuable and essential labor forces be taken advantage of in such trying times. I want to commend the efforts of other Flag States for taking proactive approaches with us in this regard, and organizations like the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network for their ongoing commitment to combat these threats. It is times like these when we all need to work together, now more than ever, to protect our industry.
The world will be relying on the ships at sea to delivery the goods this recovery will need. I hope that there will be continued close collaboration between IMO, ICS, ITF, ILO, WHO, the Flag States, Class Societies, and Port and Coastal States. We will need it.
To all the seafarers out at sea, thank you. To the harbuor pilots, tug boat operators, stevedores, agents, surveyors, inspectors, and Coast Guard authorities, thank you. To those ashore, tirelessly supporting your fleet of ships, and your seafarers, thank you. We sincerely hope that the needs of our seafarers, such a vital part of our global economy, and of our upcoming economic recovery, are treated fairly, properly, and humanely. Further we pray for a speedy end to this crisis, and look forward to the recovery that will surely come, and come from the sea.