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Allow crew changes to resolve humanitarian crisis, insists IMO Secretary-General

A humanitarian crisis is taking place at sea and urgent action is needed to protect seafarers’ health and ensure the safety of shipping, the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has warned. In a strong statement issued ahead of the General Assembly of the United Nations, he called on governments to take swift action to resolve the crew change crisis. 

More than 300,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently stranded at sea

 It is estimated that more than 300,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently stranded at sea and unable to be repatriated despite the expiry of their contracts. A similar number of seafarers have been unable to join ships and relieve them. This is due to restrictions imposed by several governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports, quarantine measures, reductions in available flights and limits on the issuing of visas and passports.

Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely: Mr Lim

Some seafarers have now been on board their ships for more than 17 months, exceeding the 11-months limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). Many have been denied proper access to medical care and shore leave, in breach of their rights under the MLC and other international instruments. This creates serious concerns, not only for seafarers’ health and wellbeing, but also for the safety of shipping. Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue operating vessels, increasing the risk of shipping casualties.

“Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely,” Mr Lim insisted. “If the crew change crisis is not resolved soon, ships will no longer be able to operate safely pursuant to the Organization’s regulations and guidelines, further exacerbating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he declared. Shipping moves more than 80 per cent of global trade and is a crucial component of the global economy.

The IMO Secretary-General also insisted on the importance of removing other barriers to crew changes, such as visa and travel restrictions, and of providing seafarers with immediate access to medical care and medical facilities on shore, when needed.  

Rate of progress not keeping pace with the backlog of ships requiring crew changes

While significant progress has been made by many countries in allowing for crew changes for all seafarers, the rate of progress is not keeping pace with the backlog of ships requiring crew changes.  

ILO, IMO and the UN Global Compact to raise visibility of the crew change crisis

Mr Lim has invited Member States to raise the issue of seafarers and the crew change crisis during the upcoming High-Level Week of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, beginning on 22 September 2020. ILO, IMO and the UN Global Compact will host a side event during that week in order to raise the visibility of the crew change crisis on World Maritime Day, 24 September 2020.

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