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IMO Uses Upcoming UN General Assembly to Renew Focus on Crew Change

IMO uses UN General Assembly to refocus attention on challenges of crew changes
One of the thousands of sailors trapped at sea - photo courtesy of the IMO

By The Maritime Executive 09-08-2020 07:32:54

The International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Kitack Lim took the opportunity of the upcoming General Assembly of the United Nations to repeat his calls for governments to take swift action to resolve the crew change crisis. The UN is due to begin its 75th annual General Assembly on September 15 with a special event reaffirming the collective commitment to multilateralism. 

While acknowledging that some progress has been made to aid with crew changes around the world, Mr. Lim in a strong statement sought to refocus attention on the “humanitarian crisis taking place at sea and the urgent action needed to protect seafarers’ health and ensure the safety of shipping.”

With the issue no longer getting regular headlines, the IMO is seeking to remind the countries of the world that estimates say 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. 

Secretary-General Lim is calling on 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 September 22, 2020. In addition, the ILO, IMO and the UN Global Compact will host an event during that week, specifically on World Maritime Day, September 24, to raise the visibility of the crew change crisis. 

The IMO is again calling attention to the problem reiterating that 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. 

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). IMO reiterates that 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, according to the IMO, 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 in his statement. “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 percent of global trade and is a crucial component of the global economy. 

Mr. Lim said that resolving the crew change crisis will require a “whole of government” approach involving several ministries. He reiterated his call to all member states to designate seafarers as key workers providing an essential service and to implement the IMO-approved protocols to allow for safe and secure crew changes. 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 onshore, when needed.   

This fresh call to action from the IMO Secretary-General is in line with months of action by the IMO, including numerous top-level statements, bilateral meetings at a diplomatic level, as well as the establishment of the Seafarer Crisis Action team to directly help stranded seafarers. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has also?urged?all countries in the world to recognize seafarers as key workers and provide the necessary travel assistance to ensure safe crew changeovers and repatriations.