At least 200,000 seafarers worldwide are stranded on ships and require immediate repatriation, and a similar number urgently need to get on board vessels to replace them, according to the latest estimates from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Thirteen countries responded on Thursday by committing to help facilitate crew changes despite travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and to achieve international key worker designation for seafarers.
Representatives from the 13 countries, who came together during a virtual summit hosted by the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement that said the “inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade.”
The 13 countries were Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, U.K. and the United States.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim applauded the signing of the joint statement to encourage all member states to designate sea workers as key workers and to implement the Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel during the Coronavirus Pandemic. The protocols were endorsed and circulated by the IMO in May.
The IMO has called the stranding of seafarers “a growing humanitarian crisis.”
During the summit Thursday, Lim said, “It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew well-being should not be compromised. The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us, for the world economy and for the safety of life at sea and the environment.”
A.P. Moller – Maersk CEO Soren Skou applauded the action taken Thursday.
“The world’s seafarers are vital to the global economy and in keeping supply chains running. Our colleagues at sea have been working nonstop since the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year and their safety is of paramount importance,” Skou said.
“We strongly urge the relevant national governments to address the situation of these men and women and help us establish safe corridors between key countries to keep the situation from deteriorating further,” he said. “Maersk is committed to helping achieve a solution as quickly as possible.”
Maersk said it currently has 6,600 seafarers on board vessels, and “more than a third of them are serving well beyond their contract length and still have no indication of when they can return home.”
The world’s largest container shipping line also said that “fatigue, overall health and issues of mental health are increasing among crews on board with extended tours.”
Maersk said international flights are still suspended or limited and local requirements in key hubs make it extremely challenging to conduct crew changes in the volumes needed.
“We need authorities to engage with us in a constructive dialogue to facilitate crew changes under the current circumstances, ensuring minimal risk to crews and their families as well as the continued flow of commerce around the world,” Maersk said.