COVID19: Day of the Seafarer highlights sacrifice of ‘key workers’

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Day of the Seafarer 2020 pays tribute to unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic: the seafarers who continue to carry essential goods despite facing tremendous challenges, including being stranded on board.

Organised by the UN’s shipping body, the International Maritime Organisation, this year’s campaign calls on governments to take action and formally recognise seafarers as key workers.

On June 25 every year, the #DayoftheSeafarer campaign turns the spotlight on the contribution seafarers make to world trade.

“With the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the services they provide are more important than ever.

Seafarers play an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, fuels and medical supplies, that people, everywhere, need,” the IMO said in an announcement.

This is why the 2020 campaign is calling on IMO member states to recognise seafarers as key workers – and to provide them with the support, assistance, and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic.

The Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Shipping was among the first to respond and on April 6 issued provisional measures to help onboard seafarers secure their certificates because of difficulties encountered in crew changes worldwide, as well as the inspections of ships due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The IMO campaign also seeks to raise awareness of the sacrifice of seafarers and the issues they face.

Travel restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea, unsure when they will be able to return home.

Many are fatigued and weary because their time at sea has been extended for months beyond the maximum stipulated in international conventions.

The Cyprus Shipping Chamber expressed serious concern over the delay to implement or facilitate crew changes, saying this was causing unnecessary fatigue on crew members.

The CSC warned if crew changes are delayed because of coronavirus, seafarers could go on strike and paralyse the maritime transport industry, at a time when nations are trying to lift lockdown and restart their economies.

The Chamber, whose members employ up to 60,000 seafarers onboard their vessels around the world, called on governments to follow the example of Cyprus and facilitate crew changes, as thousands of seafarers are stuck on vessels and cannot disembark or return home.

It issued a statement saying it was disappointed over global delays.

On this Day of the Seafarer message, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim highlighted the unique and essential work of seafarers, who deliver 80% of global trade by volume.

He praised the dedication, professionalism and resilience of seafarers, at a time when many are unable to be repatriated or replaced by relief crews.

The Secretary-General also emphasised the difficulties faced by seafarers, including denial of shore leave, difficulties in accessing medical care and, in some cases, the lack of personal protective equipment.

“Despite all these challenges, seafarers have stayed on the job, 24/7.”

“Just like other key workers, seafarers are on the front line in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need – and deserve – quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during the pandemic, but at all times.”

Lim has written to all IMO member states, urging them to recognise all seafarers as “key workers”.

This call was echoed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres who thanked and saluted seafarers everywhere for their work.

The UN chief urged all countries in the world to honour seafarers by recognising them as key workers and providing the necessary travel assistance to ensure safe crew changeovers and repatriations.