Marking the International Day of the Seafarer on June 25, the U.K. government announced it will host the first international summit on the impact of COVID-19 on crew changes next month, bringing together United Nations (UN), political and business leaders from across the globe.
Led by U.K. Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, the event will take place virtually and will be an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the global shipping industry, and what governments and industry must do to protect the welfare of crew workers around the world.
In a special address, Kitack Lim, the UN Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is expected to highlight the humanitarian need to safeguard workers across the seas and states’ duties to repatriate workers swiftly.
Due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on countries around the globe, with many shutting down borders, it is now estimated there are more than 1.2 million seafarers at sea at any one time and currently 200,000 seafarers due to change over, including up to 2,000 from the U.K.
Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst said that seafarers have worked tirelessly during this pandemic to ensure people across the globe can access the essential food, medicine and supplies, but thousands have been left with no way of coming ashore when faced with border restrictions.
Tolhurst added that the British government has helped more than 7,000 crew get home back to their loved ones across the world, regardless of nationality or circumstance.
Many crews have had their contracts extended but this is not a long-term solution, with many seafarers on board a ship for months despite having had no contact with coronavirus and posing no risk.
To ensure their swift repatriation, and to safeguard workers’ mental health, the Maritime Minister wrote to the IMO, the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organization at the start of the outbreak on March 23 pressing that all states follow the U.K.’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment.
The U.K. has remained open for seafarers to come and either stay on vessels, go ashore, take shore leave or be repatriated, abiding by Public Health England requirements and social distancing.
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), welcomed the announcement to hold a virtual summit on the critical crew change issue. “The fragile supply chain and global trade is now at threat of logjam due to government inaction and bureaucracy. Government leaders must cut through the bureaucracy, lift the continuing imposition of travel restrictions on these key workers and focus on this issue now,” Platten said.
“The solutions do not need money; they do not even need complicated negotiations, this is simple. The leadership provided by the U.K. to cut through this red tape is just the sort of initiative that is needed to free the thousands of seafarers who are trapped onboard ships across the world,” Platen concluded.
In the UK, more than 7,000 cruise ship workers have been repatriated since the pandemic began.