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Crew change crisis: ITF to assist seafarers in their right to leave ships

Photo: ITF stephencotton3 2.jpg
Stephen Cotton, ITF
As a global solution to the crew change crisis remains elusive the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and its affiliated seafarer unions say they now assist their members to stop working and leave their vessels.

In a significant ratcheting up of the campaign to get seafarers exempted from Covid-19 restrictions and allow some 200,000 seafarers to be repatriated and replaced onboard ITF will assist those who want to stop working and get home.

Stephen Cotton, ITF general-secretary, stated: “If a seafarers wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honour their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation,”

He said a few small changes by national governments with practical exemptions from coronavirus restrictions would allow seafarers to get home.

“If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers.

 “Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough,” Cotton stated.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News Cotton stressed that this was not a case of the union flexing industrial muscle but about seafarer welfare and safety of the industry. “It’s a humanitarian cry for help from us. If we don’t start paying attention we will have incidents and accidents, and that will be a disaster for the industry.”

Commenting on the situation for seafarers stuck onboard vessels he said, “The worst part is the lack of clarity when they are getting off.” Modern communications can add to the stress with the seafarer facing being asked by his kids why they were not home three months ago like they were supposed to be.

Cotton also recognised the hard work put in by managers and owners to repatriate crew and the frustrations they have with paperwork and flights being cancelled at the last minute

He believes the industry and the IMO have done everything that could be done, “but it is all down to governments now”.

With a few notable exceptions such as Hong Kong, allowing unrestricted crew change, and Singapore allowing crew changes with strict protocols at the end of contracts, large scale crew changes remain difficult if not impossible in many countries.

 ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair Dave Heindel said an estimated 200,000 seafarers have been caught up in the crew change crisis.

“We are sending a very strong message to seafarers: you have selflessly extended and extended your contracts to do your part to keep critical supplies flowing around the world during this pandemic,”

“Some seafarers have been onboard for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family,” said Heindel


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