International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim is urging member states to join the 13 that last week signed a pledge to help get more than 200,000 seafarers repatriated.
The IMO has said those seafarers have spent months beyond their contracts stuck on ships because of travel restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. A similar number of seafarers are waiting to board ships and begin work, according to the IMO.
The joint statement issued last week calls for designating seafarers as key workers around the world; accepting their identification documents as evidence of that status; implementing industry-approved protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes; reviewing national quarantine restrictions; and increasing access as quickly as possible to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers.
Officials from Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States signed last week’s joint statement.
A specialized agency of the United Nations, the IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. The IMO has 174 member states and three associate members.
In a letter dated Monday, Lim urged all member states to commit to the principles in the joint statement.
“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 Labor Convention,” the letter said. “Since March 2020, only about 25% of normal crew changes have taken place. Apart from the humanitarian and crew welfare concerns and issues of regulatory compliance, there is an increasing risk that fatigue and mental health issues could lead to serious maritime accidents.”
The need for urgency is exacerbated by the rash of new cases of COVID-19 in some places, particularly across the U.S. Sun Belt.
“The uncertainty around a possible second wave of COVID-19 underscores the need for swift actions without further delay to allow crew changes and to avoid further consequences to the already fragile global supply chain, which relies on goods transported by ships,” the IMO letter said.