“The inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes (during the pandemic) is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade,” the statement read.
Since March 2020, only about 25% of normal crew changes have taken place, it stated, leaving more than 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea awaiting repatriation, while a similar number wait ashore to relieve them.
“Seafarers’ tours of duty cannot continue to be extended and need to be kept to a duration of less than 12 months, as set out by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006,” it pointed out. “Apart from the humanitarian and crew welfare concerns, and issues of regulatory compliance, there is an increasing risk fatigue and mental health issues could lead to serious maritime accidents.”
Committing to lead by example, the signatory governments therefore called on all IMO member states to:
• recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’, accepting their international seafarer documents as legal proof of such if necessary;
• implement as far as possible the maritime industry’s agreed protocols for safe crew changes;
• amend quarantine restrictions as needed to exempt seafarers;
• explore together with the aviation industry suitable flight options for safe crew travel.
“Together, we can avert the global crisis that is unfolding at sea and play our part in helping the world defeat the coronavirus (COVID-19),” concluded the statement, which was also backed by the IMO, whose secretary-general Lim Ki-tack delivered an opening address at the summit.
“Today marks a new chapter for seafarers,” commented UK Transport Secretary Grant Schapps. “Alongside our international partners we are taking a stand to end the bureaucracy preventing men and women around the world from returning home.”
Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, who co-hosted the summit, expressed the hope that “through today’s commitment we will speed up repatriation for crews globally.”
Governments who were signatories to the joint statement included Denmark, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UAE, UK and US.
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