Amid Viral Pandemic: THE WORLD OF SEAFARERS
Worldometer reports the coronavirus COVID-19 affects 213 countries and territories and two international conveyances, recording 7,145,189 cases worldwide, causing 407,390 deaths, with 3,485,299 recoveries from January 22 to June 8, 2020.
This pandemic is unique experience for everybody, then and now. Thus, protocols and guidelines are a hodge-podge of estimates and proto-expertise. And as Government seeks the right mix, seafarers are on the edges screaming, begging, taunting…
The prevalent mood is fear; the prevailing mode is stigma and rejection. Many seafarers are stuck like prisoners at sea. Whether they like it or not, they have to extend their contracts because they are not allowed to disembark or crew change not allowed.
For those repatriated, they are forced into more quarantines --- on ports along the route they dock, before disembarkation at any home port, and quarantined once more in their homes, with wary family and belligerent neighbours.
Before these, are gnawing nights of waiting: for the results of rapid testing takes a month or over. Even those with results already are stuck forgotten. On top, they wrestle with uncertainties on pay like overtime, hazard and full contract payment.
Some were stranded on land due to policy lockdowns: no income with more expenses; they want to work but can’t.
Some were denied emergency medical care due to national or local restrictions. While some issues were minor, others are serious, even life-threatening requiring immediate medical attention. Some died of the virus, of suicide.
International organizations have called on Governments to raise concerns for the welfare of the seafarers, egging governments of each nation to act.
On May 28th, a joint letter of about seven international associations poked on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper:
“It is inconceivable that the United States – the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, with military bases, planes and facilities all over the globe – cannot relieve its own mariners who are stranded at sea… Scores of U.S. mariners are presently trapped aboard cargo ships, unable to take leave or return home due to extreme COVID-19 lockdown measures imposed by foreign governments.”
The International Federation of Shipmasters Associations (IFSMA) underscores the pandemic is not force majeure,”… shipmasters and their crews remain subject to normal contractual conditions and in accordance with the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention.” Shipmasters have been forced to remain at sea for the safety of their crew.
However, it is that very pressure and fatigue that increases the risk of an accident, increases the risk of them being criminalized by the courts ashore and the loss of their livelihoods.
UN’s maritime arm, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14, May 5, which calls ports to allow crew changes, provided shipping companies submit to requirements of local authorities on the pandemic (and airports and air carriers).
The Joint Negotiating Group (JNG), representing 215 seafarers unions and a million members, underscored lack of crew change can no longer continue being detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the seafarers. As a compromise, contracts will not be extended as Governments are expected:
- To support a transition period for governments and employers to implement the IMO issued framework of protocols, allowing up to 30 days starting from 15 May 2020 to ensure safe facilitation of crew changes takes place;
- Those companies will consider, if financially viable and possible, to financially acknowledge every seafarer whose employment contract has expired, but who has continued to work;
- Those companies will consider, if financially viable and possible, to provide seafarers waiting to be deployed an advance salary payment;
- Those companies will, where possible, provide seafarers with extra bandwidth and internet access to be able to communicate with home; and
- That, when crew change commences, those seafarers who have been on-board the longest will be prioritised and repatriated first regardless of rank.
At the Maritime Standard 2nd Covid 19-A Leadership Perspective Webinar on May 20th COO John Ramage, International Registries of Marshall Islands, says “Under the ‘new normal’ seafarers are not going to be able to be replaced everywhere. So, we have to work with governments to identify areas around the work where reliefs can take place safely and that will require a lot of planning as well as forbearance by crew.”
Marino World believes it is very important to help place the problem in proper context: unknown really, the world united in combating the spread, and there would be departures on what are the better and best doable solutions.
“Positive” is not a dirty word in relation to the pandemic. It’s even a key to survival when we all see the brighter side. Stop the corrosive paralysis by analysis. See the efforts, not the struggles; the hope than the fear --- the faith, not the over-thinking.
Each month, about 150,000 seafarers need to be changed over, to and from the ships they operate, to ensure international maritime regulations for safety, crew health and welfare, and preventing fatigue are complied with.
The IMO currently has 174 Member States and three Associate Members. As countries issue guidelines on crew changes and travel aligned with the IMO recommended framework of protocols, successful crew changes are reported in India, China, Philippines, Singapore.
As we approach the Day of the Seafarer on June 25, there may be more rays of hope.
Intl Maritime Employers Council Chairman Belal Ahmed believes Governments “… need to show real care for the ‘invisible’ soldiers who are keeping the global supply chain open. There is no more time in hand, before we have a breakdown on the system.”
At the webinar SMM Advance Press Conference, Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) President Sadan Kaptanoglu has called on governments not to abandon ship owners and their crews at sea and on land.
MARINA Administrator VAdm Robert A. Empedrad, Philippines, cannot overemphasize the role of the shipping industry as ships are quietly transporting cargoes of basic commodities such as grain, coal, oil and, most importantly, medical supplies.
Empedrad estimates around 100,000 ships carry almost 95% of the world trade, operated by close to 1.5 million seafarers; 378,000 of which are Filipinos. Like doctors and nurses, seafarers have continued to work day and night while combatting fear, anxiety and great risk to their own health to keep the world trade afloat.