Unions ready to take action as crewing deadline passes

Today marks the deadline for what was described in May as the final day before crews working beyond their stipulated contracts must be repatriated. There is now a very real risk that crews will vote with their feet and down tools as a trade union agreement expires in the next 24 hours.

According to the latest data from dry bulk organisation Intercargo there are more than 300,000 seafarers now working at sea beyond their original contractual terms thanks to strict travel restrictions brought in across the globe with the spread of coronavirus.

Under a deal thrashed out in the middle of last month governments had until today to resolve the crew change issue.

In a joint statement from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) last month the two organisations urged governments to swiftly follow the International Maritime Organization’s guidelines on crew change.

Failure to abide by the deadline, the statement warned, could “negatively impact on the commercial viability” of ship operations.

Despite some progress being made in recent weeks – led notably by Hong Kong and Canada – there remains no global cohesion on how to get crews home.

Francesco Gargiulo, CEO of IMEC, told Splash today: “Unfortunately, regardless of the huge amount of lobbying that took place in the last three months, most governments have refused to listen and even an appeal from the UN secretary general went unanswered.”

Travel initiatives thus far by the shipping industry had only made a “tiny dent”, Gargiulo said, and the movement seen so far is not seen as sufficient by the unions to agree a further extension.

“The ITF appreciates that most employers are doing all they can but governments are not listening and sticking to their protectionist approach so I expect they will now want to change approach as we get the feeling that the time for talk is now coming to an end,” Gargiulo warned today.

The ITF has yet to reply to multiple emails sent by Splash on the next course of action the unions will take to try and resolve the issue.

“We have been reassured that employers that have been trying in good faith will not be targeted however, the unions will no longer be able to support our members in telling seafarers to stay put if their extended contract come to an end after today,” the IMEC boss said.

There have already been a number of instances where crews have deviated from their intended course and taken ships to their home countries – more are expected with the union agreement set to expire tomorrow.

In a video posted on Friday Intercargo chairman Dimitris Fafalios described the “invisible humanitarian crisis” unfolding at sea.

“Today an invisible humanitarian crisis is unfolding around us. More than 300,000 are trapped at sea having ended their contractual term onboard and absolutely desperate to return to their homes and families,” Fafalios said.

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. ITF must invoke the Sailor’s Bill of Rights at the UN – International Court of Justice. As soon as the first shipmanager enters prison, crew changes will take place at the speed of light!

      1. ITF should ask the local government to shoulder the lobbying of the crew not the shipowner coz of 2weeks quarantine of joining crew. And for the crew which is signing off no need for we are isolated depends of how long the voyage. Just my thoughts

  2. As if anything depends on the ship managers in this case. It is stubborn countries like India and Philippines that are the biggest obstruction to crew changes.

    1. Shipmanagers are the ones who have devised all this regulatory framework. Philippines has not strangled sailors.

    2. The last thing I want is to have filipinos and indians onboard my ships. Considering the disastrous covid measures and cluster living in those countries.

      1. To make a sweeping statement like that shows lack of awareness and an exceptional narrow mind. There are many responsible Filipinos and Indians onboard vessels who are taking measures to protect oneself from COVID19. Granted that there are some black sheep but that applies to the whole world.

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