The leader of the United Nations recognized mariners’ “indispensable role securing vital global supply chains” today while stressing that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking an intense toll on seafarers.
The theme of this year’s World Maritime Day is “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future,” emphasizing safety, maritime security, environmental protection and seafarersʹ well-being while rolling in the challenges and opportunities from increased digitalization and automation in the industry.
The maritime transportation system globally handles more than 80 percent of world trade “in extraordinarily challenging times,” noted UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said the pandemic “continues to place immense physical and mental pressures on the two million women and men who serve on the world’s merchant fleet.”
“Hundreds of thousands still face extended times at sea, with tours of duty stretching many months beyond their contracts,” Guterres said. “Unable to go to shore, repatriate and change crews, and without access to medical care, seafarers face a humanitarian crisis that jeopardizes the safety and the future of shipping.”
The UN leader renewed his appeal to governments to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as essential workers, ensure safe crew changes, implement established protocols developed by UN agencies, and allow stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships. A year ago, with some crew members on their ships for 17 months or more, the UN call for no new work extensions beyond 11 months, steering vessels to ports where crew changes could occur, and recognition of internationally designated seafarers’ documents.
“These critical workers must have access to national vaccination programs, and provisions should be made to vaccinate international seafarers at designated ports,” Guterres continues. “Governments have a duty to comply with relevant international treaty obligations to render assistance to any seafarers in distress, including medical assistance, ensuring rights and needs of seafarers are respected.”
“Looking ahead, seafarers will play a critical role helping advance shipping’s move toward ever higher standards of safety and sustainability, in turn helping the sector do its vital part in building a sustainable future for people and planet,” he added.
The International Maritime Organization urged countries to bathe landmarks in blue light today in recognition of vital seafarers and their sacrifices. Secretary-General Kitack Lim stressed that “shipping drives world trade and that trade simply does not happen without seafarers.”
“While the challenges of automation and digitalization – not to mention decarbonization – will drive change in shipping, we will always need well-trained and motivated seafarers,” Lim said. “We must ensure a diverse and expert workforce for the ships of the 21st century and beyond.”
Pope Francis echoed similar sentiments in a World Maritime Day tweet for “maritime personnel and fishermen, who have recently faced many sacrifices so as to provide, through their work, food and other primary needs to the greater human family to alleviate the sufferings caused by the pandemic.”