Ecumenical charity Liverpool Seafarers Centre has written to the UK maritime minister Kelly Tolhurst and leading NGOs including the International Maritime Organisation calling for clearer rules and guidance on seafarer repatriation.
LSC Chief executive John Wilson, who is in daily contact with seafarers, said although many organisations are calling for crew changes and seafarer repatriation to be ‘fast-tracked’ in so-called ‘green lanes’ as key workers the actual process of repatriation is complex.
In a letter issued on 30 March, the IMO distributed a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector (see notes to editors). Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory, such as to an airport, to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.(See notes to editors)
Mr Wilson said: “It is very positive that the maritime industry is coming together to support and recognise seafarers led by the IMO which is doing a brilliant job,” he said. “However, seafarers are still worried because countries are moving to ‘closed border’ status, which means if seafarers are granted repatriation it is possible that at each border crossing a quarantine period of 14 days could be imposed. Furthermore, when the seafarer reaches the home country, a further period could be necessary. Who pays for the loss of earnings during this period? There is clearly a big issue with seafarers mental health already under massive pressure because of the pandemic and long six to nine month contracts at sea, some of which are being extended. This mental health problem could be worsened by extended periods of quarantine. Quarantine will see seafarers separated from their families, possibly in poor conditions and unpaid. At the very least we think one period of quarantine should be enough but they must be paid and the conditions must be of a high standard. These issues must be looked at as that is what seafarers are saying they are concerned about.”
Mr Wilson said while the complex issue of repatriation is worked out between Governments and NGOs there is ‘an urgent issue now’ of mental health of seafarers who are stuck on board ships with no shore leave.
“It is critical we take action in the immediate term to help seafarers on-board ship and we especially appeal to ship owners and internet providers to offer free WiFi so seafarers can communicate with their families,” he said. “In addition we urge ship owners to increase the provisions budget so better food is available to crew to boost morale. These measures would be straightforward to implement and make a big difference.”
Mr Wilson was prompted to write the letter after delivering welfare provision to ships docked in the Mersey River berths and terminals where shore leave has been embargoed. He said signs were already evident that this was impacting on the mental state of some seafarers.
The letter was also sent to Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labour Organisation, Kitack Lim, secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation.
Mr Wilson also called on the seafarers centre’s workers to be given key worker status, as welfare providers.
LSC’s work involves visiting vessels to integrate with the crew, offering a listening ear to help combat isolation and loneliness and providing places ashore for seafarers to relax away from their working environment.
The European Commission meanwhile on April 13 issued guidelines to member states who currently have different rules on crew changes in their ports. The Commission said member states should follow guidance on facilitating transit arrangements and on the implementation of green lanes. For non-EU nationals who need visas to disembark within the EU and who could not apply for them due to the current situation, member states should grant these at the border so that they may be quickly repatriated. The guidelines call on member states, in coordination with the Commission, to designate ports around EU shores for fast-track crew changes, with adequate facilities for seafarers to undertake medical checks, quarantine if required by the country and transport connections onward to their home country.
The pandemic has led to extension of some contracts, potentially with a negative impact on wellbeing of seafarers, the Commission noted, adding: In all cases such extensions should take place with the agreement of the individuals concerned.