The world needs to let seafarers travel – even during the pandemic

Apr 6, 2020 | News

The fear of Covid-19 has made crew changes all but impossible. That is a risk to the worldwide supply of vital goods, and a threat to seafarers and their families.

In any given month about 100.000 crew-members reach the end of their contract and go home. At the same time, 100.000 start their contract and join a vessel. Right now, the figures are close to zero. No one is disembarking or joining a ship.

We, as Grieg Star, have had Filipino seafarers for many years. Right now, we have stopped all crew change till the 14th of April. We do not want our colleagues to be stuck around the world trying to reach a ship or trying to go home. So, we are careful. 

Forced to stay onboard

The reason is, the situation around the world is exceptionally unclear and rapidly changing. Reduced airlines capacity and quarantine measures make it unmanageable to bring seafarers to or from the port where they should disembark or join the ship. Countries change their regulations overnight, increasing the risk of getting stuck. Medical attention or repatriation is equally difficult. 

This situation force seafarers to stay on board after they have fulfilled their contract. That means having to continue to stay away from their family beyond their six or nine months already served. Seafaring is already a hard occupation, both physically and mentally. Living with the fear of Covid-19 and knowing you are stuck on board your ship for an indefinite time adds to that. 

Families losing income 

For those who are waiting to join a ship, the situation is different but equally worrying. Seafarers are contractual workers, and not being able to start a new contract may result in severe hardship for their families. We are doing what we can to alleviate that. Still, a lot of seafarers and their families face a challenging period.

It seems the international community does not understand how vital seafarers are to this world. The seafarers are crucial to keep worldwide supplies moving. We do not have autonomous vessels; we need seafarers.   

Crews must be changed

All countries around the world need to consider seafarers as Key Workers. They need to be able to move to and from their vessels. We work every day to motivate and support our seafarers and their families. But we need the world’s governments to recognise the need we have for healthy and well-rested seafarers and appreciate that seafarers need to see their families.

A few days ago, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim asked the United Nations system agencies to support IMO in its request to governments to declare seafarers, port personnel and other crucial maritime workers as key personnel. Other organisations, like ILO, ICS, ITF, Intercargo/Intertanko, European commission, NMA, Classification societies, as well as the Norwegian Shipowners’ association and other shipowner’s associations around the world talk loudly about the problem. Now our governments need to step up and take this matter seriously. The world needs the major ports to accept that crew must be changed. 

We need to honour that UK and Canada now have recognised seafarers as Key Workers and are allowing free movement of seafarers example to be followed!

Please let our seafarers go home and let them provide for their families!