Lim called on all governments to take action on the crew change crisis what was described as a “strong statement” by the IMO.
“Nearly six months have passed since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, and the numerous restrictions and obstacles that prevent crew changes have created a humanitarian crisis at sea,” he said.
Despite crew change protocols drawn up the industry and IMO repeated calls internationally to resolve the crisis progress has been slow with the exchange of seafarers remaining either difficult or impossible in many countries due to national restrictions on travel in a bid to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“While significant progress has been made by many countries in allowing for crew changes for all seafarers, the rate of progress is not keeping pace with the backlog of ships requiring crew changes,” Lim said.
The result is some 300,000 seafarers trapped onboard their vessels unable to be relieved despite in some cases having served more than 17 months onboard, well beyond the 11-month limit stipulated by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). Making matters worse seafarers onboard are being denied urgent medical attention and shore leave. With 300,000 stranded onboard a similar number of seafarers remain stuck at home unable to work.
Lim gave governments a stark warning of what a failure to resolve the crew change crisis will mean. “Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely. In addition to the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by keeping seafarers effectively trapped on their vessels, the safety issues that arise from requiring overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers to continue operating vessels are a matter of great concern.
“If the crew change crisis is not resolved, ships will no longer be able to operate safely pursuant to the Organization's regulations and guidelines, further exacerbating the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he stated.
Lim said a “whole government” approach involving multiple Ministries was required to resolve the crisis. This will include designating seafarers as “essential workers”, implementation of the protocols on crew change as published by the IMO, and the lifting of visa and travel restrictions.
He requested member states consider raising seafarers and the crew change crisis during 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly beginning on 22 September 2020.
“Working together, this challenge to shipping and seafarers can be overcome. I pledge my best efforts and those of the IMO Secretariat in that regard,” Lim concluded.
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