“You Are Not Forgotten”

Source: IMO
Source: IMO

Published Apr 21, 2020 7:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

A steady stream of contact from concerned seafarers continues to flow into the UK charity, Human Rights at Sea. 

Virtually all seafarers who communicate with the charity do not want to be identified due to their worries about retribution for speaking up, says the charity. The common threads of concern focus around individual and crew mental exhaustion, safety onboard, concern about being stranded, and being unable to get home to support their families.

A Second Engineer currently onboard an oil tanker contacted the charity and commented: “My contract duration is for four months but its already six months wherein I am still onboard due to the COVID situation. [My] biggest concern is about the family at home, as during these difficult times they have to do all the activities at home without any help from us. [The] worst case scenario if someone at home is infected and I am there at sea it is not possible for me to do absolutely anything for my family which is a scary thought. Since the ship is the safest place at the moment when at sea, but when at port there is a high probability of shore staff entering the vessel and infecting the crew is a great concern at the moment.”

An Indian Master contacted the charity to highlight that despite over-running their employment contracts, the crew will be sailing past their home State to reposition via South Africa with an indication of continuing onwards to the east coast of South America. If disembarked in South Africa, the crew are worried they can not return to their families under the current COVID-19 restrictions.

“My officers and crew are mentally exhausted and depressed thinking of the reality, what future holds for them if vessel goes past the Indian coast,” he said. “Please note as of date there are nine crew members overdue for relief who are fatigued both mentally and physically, and under enormous psychological pressure to safely execute their shipboard responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, the ITF reports that Indonesian authorities at first rejected multiple requests for an emergency medical evacuation needed to save the life of a 45-year-old Russian seafarer on board the WL Palekh due to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The crew member showed symptoms of having suffered a stroke while the vessel was in international waters 225 kilometers from Sumatra. Despite repeated requests from the vessel’s Master, the Seafarers' Union of Russia (SUR) and Indonesia seafarers' union, Kesatuan Pelaut Indonsia (KPI), local authorities continued to reject appeals for emergency medical assistance before a police vessel was finally sent to evacuate the seafarer at around 9:00pm local time last night.

The ITF had called on the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the IMO to urgently intervene, and they acted to ensure the evacuation took place. As a signatory to the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) the Government of Indonesia is obliged to provide emergency medical assistance and “prompt medical help and evacuation at sea for the seriously ill or injured on board a ship.”

“You are not alone. You are not forgotten,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in a personal message to seafarers everywhere. 

Hundreds of ship sailings have been canceled as trade has been reduced in line with the slowing global economy and ports all over the world have either closed or drastically cut their operations. Restrictions on travel and personal movement adopted by most countries have left many seafarers stranded on board ships, unable to disembark or be replaced by relief crews. Others find themselves stuck in hotels, without pay and unable to get flights home. 

Estimates suggest that, every month, 100,000 seafarers finish their contracts and would normally be flown home - but the coronavirus has had a huge negative impact on this repatriation process. 

Since the start of the global lockdown, IMO has been in urgent contact with trade unions, seafarer welfare organizations, shipowners, governments and fellow United Nations agencies, especially the ILO, to try and find solutions.  

Lim said he had been “deeply touched by the many stories we have heard from individual seafarers of the challenges, hardships and sacrifices that seafarers have made to keep the global supply chain moving while helping the global population.” 

Lim has written to all IMO Member States urging them to recognize all seafarers as “key workers,” remove any barriers to their documentation and lift national travel restrictions so that they can get home on conclusion of their contracts and rejoin their families. Wherever possible, IMO staff have been working round the clock to help bring individual cases to a speedy resolution, he said.