UN under pressure to alleviate ‘humanitarian disaster’ as number of stranded seafarers surpasses 200,000

The UN secretary-general was urged on Friday by shipping and trade unions leaders to persuade his 193 member states to act urgently to avoid a “humanitarian crisis”, with over 200,000 seafarers currently stuck working on vessels across the globe and unable to be relieved of their duties.

In a joint letter to António Guterres, the leaders of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), urged the secretary-general to ensure governments were adopting the 12-step set of protocols issued by the UN’s own maritime regulator, the International Maritime Organization.

The letter states: “There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue.

“Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”

The letter highlights the responsibility of governments to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“Time is running out. We ask action be taken immediately, ahead of 16 June 2020 – the final agreed deadline to implement crew changes for our seafarers,” the letter states.

In related news, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore has confirmed news first covered by Splash, setting out a way for crew changes to take place in the busy shipping hub for seafarers who have worked beyond their contracts.

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. These numbers are underestimated, the number is closer to 350,000. By the end of June this will be 500,000 or 40-45% of seafarers. Which will also mean the number over 12 months, will be even larger, and many are over 14 months at sea.

    Then consider the longer term logistics of crew rotations when those at sea come ashore. We are facing a crisis of manpower brought about by the inability to rotate and rest the seafarer workforce in a safe manner.

    How much longer will we have the ostrich syndrome by the world leaders, the UN, and the countries that could make a difference? What is it going to take? A Torey Canyon, an Amoco Cadiz or Exxon Valdez?

  2. Singapore allows crew change but ask for sign-on crew the request to be send to them 14 days before arrival in Singapore and dis is almost impossible. In the last circular don’t specify that, only the sign on crew to have 14 day of quarantine and covid-19 test BCR with negative results. Why need the 14 days before i don’t andestend, they have documentation they do 14 days of quarantine and the negative result certify the 14 days of quarantine.

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