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Governments hiding behind force majeure for onshore treatment of critically-ill seafarers

Governments continue to hide behind force majeure rules to deny critically ill seafarers medical access ashore, something lobby group the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has demanded ends immediately, Sam Chambers reports on the Splash247 news platform.

Publicly reported stories throughout the pandemic include seafarers with broken limbs being asked to remain onboard and take painkillers, a chief engineer vomiting blood not allowed to disembark, and even the body of a ship’s master who suffered a fatal heart attack being refused repatriation.

Citing force majeure, governments have bypassed fundamental standards on seafarer wellbeing, such as those contained in the Maritime Labour Convention. This is despite the International Labour Organization declaring in a recent report that given that almost two years had passed since the beginning of the pandemic force majeure should not be regarded as a valid reason to deprive seafarers of their rights.

Governments, many of whom are yet to recognise seafarers as key workers despite encouragement to do so by the United Nations, have relied on broad ranging force majeure defences to deny seafarers medical treatment.

ICS’s principal legal director Kiran Khosla said that the ILO’s Committee of Experts has made it clear that governments can no longer hide behind a so-called act of God to deny seafarers these fundamental rights.

“Throughout the pandemic, shipowners, with their ships and crew, have been keeping the world supplied with food, fuel and medicine. But governments have been too slow to recognise seafarers as key workers, harming both their health and the health of global supply chains. Two years after the pandemic began, governments have no excuse for hiding behind force majeure,” Mr. Khosla said. (Photo from Department of Defence of India)