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ILO calls for release of more than 150,000 ‘trapped’ seafarers

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The International Labour Organization (ILO) has reiterated its call for seafarers to be treated as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic so they can safely return home.

The Geneva-based body says “urgent and coordinated action” is now needed to release the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world because of measures to contain the Covid-19 virus.

Referring to the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 , it calls on governments to adopt without delay all possible measures to facilitate crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, while taking steps to minimize the risk of contagion.

The ILO first made such calls at the end of April but says that in the ensuing period of more than one month only “limited progress” has been made and that the plight of seafarers is “worsening by the day.”

It points out that many seafarers completed their tour of duty more than four months ago and are now experiencing mental health problems and physical exhaustion, which is reducing their ability to safely carry out their duties.

“Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable,” says Guy Ryder, ILO director-general. “We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety.”

The call for key worker status for seafarers was underlined in a joint statement  issued on 22 May by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), IMO and the ILO. This would exempt crew from travel restrictions and facilitate their joining or leaving ships.

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