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UN pleades for seafarers to be designated as key workers to resolve crew change crisis

The United Nations General Assembly has called on UN Member States to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers and to implement relevant measures to allow stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships, and to ensure  access to medical care.

In a resolution on International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains, adopted on 1 December, the United Nations recognizes the need for an urgent and concrete response from all stakeholders, including the private sector, to resolve the situation of seafarers stranded at sea and/or unable to join ships because of national travel restrictions introduced across the globe as a result of the pandemic.

The resolution also encourages Governments and relevant stakeholders to implement IMO-recognized protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships, taking into account essential preventive measures taken by port states against COVID-19.

Welcoming the adoption of the resolution, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Kitack Lim said, “Sadly, hundreds of thousands of seafarers, who are vital to maintaining supply chains, remain stranded at sea for months beyond their contracted time. This is causing immense strain, fatigue and exhaustion and is unsustainable. I hope that this call to action will result in positive momentum to resolve the crew change crisis.”

Mr. Lim added, “I am grateful to those countries who have already taken steps to designate seafarers as key workers and to all UN agencies and industry partners who have been working tirelessly to find ways to resolve the difficult situation. This is a human rights issue. Seafarers’ lives are being made impossible through the crew change difficulties and this can only have a detrimental effect on ship safety and on the supply chain, the longer the situation continues.”

The UN resolution calls on international organizations and other relevant stakeholders, including workers and employers’ organizations, to support Governments, upon their request, in the design and implementation of their responses and policies aimed at ensuring the integrity and increase the resilience of global supply chains, decent working and living conditions and human rights of seafarers.

Applauding the UN news, Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, commented: “The International Chamber of Shipping understands that 44 UN member states currently classify seafarers as key workers. While this resolution is a positive step, clearly there is much more to be done. Governments must now leverage their considerable power to persuade others to follow suit and classify their seafarers as key workers.”

Mr. Lim also hopes the key worker designation will ensure that seafarers and maritime workers receive priority treatment when Covid-19 vaccinations are made available.