Vatican Calls for Access to Shore Leave for Seafarers' Wellbeing

shore leave
Getting permission to go down the gangway is harder today than ever before (file image)

Published Jul 14, 2022 12:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Vatican is pushing for shipping lines and governments across the globe to allow seafarers to take shore leave in order to enhance their wellbeing and reduce the pressures of being aboard ships for months on end.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said that even after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the rights of seafarers continue to be violated by being denied shore leave.

In a message during Sea Sunday, Cardinal Czerny noted that although the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) requires companies to provide decent and clean accommodation, nourishing food, a safe working environment, proper hours of work and shore leave to seafarers, the significant gains made since MLC came into force in 2013 continue to be seriously undermined.

“Let us take the issue of shore leave. The ability to leave the vessel and go ashore, if only for a short time, is crucial for seafarers’ wellbeing. Most of us take for granted the freedom we have to go outside, enjoy open spaces, place our feet on firm ground or soft grass and see different people. But seafarers have no such freedom. They cannot leave the ship, and every day they walk on metal [decks] and see the same faces. The only way they can share in the freedom we enjoy is to have access to shore leave. They may only have a couple of hours but that can make all the difference,” said Cardinal Czerny.

Shipping companies and ports are facing criticism for preventing shore leave at a time when countries are opening their borders and lifting COVID-19 restrictions. At the height of the pandemic and before the vaccination campaign for seafarers began, governments and companies canceled all shore leave and seafarers were required to stay on board to avoid infections and spreading the virus. Official restrictions still exist in many ports, and even where they do not, seafarers may face pressure to stay on board in order to minimize the chance of bringing COVID back onto the ship.

The Vatican believes that although the situation is improving around the world as countries open their borders and lift restrictions, enabling people to move freely again, seafarers continue to be prohibited from going ashore.

“This is a gross injustice. Even though they are fully vaccinated, seafarers are frequently denied the free movement we enjoy,” observed Cardinal Czerny.

The push by the Vatican for seafarers to be granted shore leave comes when COVID-19 cases are rising globally. The World Health Organization sees Europe as the center of the resurgence with some countries in Asia also witnessing a spike in infections.

South Korea, for instance, has introduced anti-epidemic measures to counter the resurgence that has seen infections rate rise by 86.5 percent in a span of a week, largely due to the BA.5 variant. China is also seeing an increase in infection numbers with the financial capital Shanghai recording 69 new infections Sunday, the most since late May and up from 57 the day before.