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Supporting seafarers on the frontline of COVID-19: IMO

IMO's Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) is working to help resolve individual cases, alongside other organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). IMO's SCAT team works around the clock – contacting representatives from national governments, NGOs, trade unions or relevant associations, or orienting seafarers towards the right organisation, to find solutions. To date SCAT has dealt with over 500 cases involving thousands of individual seafarers

Repatriating a seafarer's body to his family

On behalf of himself and 21 crew, a Master sent a harrowing letter to IMO's Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) on 9 June 2021. The letter described how they had been "living a nightmare" since the death of their colleague, at sea, three weeks prior.​

A crewmember, with a history of hypertension, fell ill

Whilst sailing in Southeast Asia, their bulk carrier had sustained damage to its tailshaft and had been taken under towage to port for repair. During the towage operation a crewmember, with a history of hypertension, fell ill. Despite the crew's best efforts to administer medical aid to the stricken seafarer, supported by expert advice from a medical company, he tragically succumbed the same day.

The vessel had put to sea at the end of April and its crew had not interacted with anyone else since leaving port. The Master and crew had reported being in good health and free of COVID-19 symptoms, and the cause of death had been assessed by the medical company, as a stroke, via telemedicine. Notwithstanding this, and despite the best efforts of the shipowner and P&I Club to disembark the seafarer, the body was still on board the vessel after calls for assistance had been rejected by five port States. ​

The Master writing to SCAT seeking assistance

In desperation, the Master and crew wrote to SCAT seeking "assistance and compassion" and "to be allowed to disembark the body of our colleague in order to be repatriated to his family". SCAT immediately informed the port State to which the vessel was being towed, flag State, seafarer's State and non-governmental organizations, and requested urgent assistance to evacuate the body of the deceased on humanitarian grounds.

The port State authority quickly took up the cause. On 10 June it cleared the vessel's arrival into port and evacuation of the body, subject to adhering to strict COVID-19 procedures, and copied the authorisation to national and local authorities. Despite this rapid intervention, SCAT received news from the Master and ship management company that local authorities had again denied access to the vessel on 11 June. The refusal to grant permission was based on an earlier decision communicated to the Embassy of the deceased seafarer.

SCAT conveyed the message to the port State and again stressed the urgent humanitarian aspect of the situation. After extensive coordination discussions between national agencies of the port State, the Embassies of the deceased seafarer and the ship management company, the owner's P&I Club, and local agents, the evacuation was belatedly approved on 19 June and planned for 24 June.  

The body of the seafarer airlifted from the vessel and flown ashore

On 24 June the ship management company confirmed the body of the seafarer had been airlifted from the vessel and flown ashore, and that he would hence be repatriated to his family upon completion of COVID-19 formalities. Despite its sorrow for losing a respected member of the crew, the company thanked SCAT "wholeheartedly …. for your kind support and efforts".

The deputy minister of one of the port State's authorities also wrote to IMO to confirm the evacuation. He thanked all parties for their support and prayers and hoped that the seafarer may "rest in peace".

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