Ecumenical charity Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC) has welcomed a commitment to get stranded seafarers home, but says a greater number of commercial flights are needed to destinations like India and the Philippines.
About 200,000 people working on board ships currently need repatriating after travel restrictions during the pandemic left them stuck at sea.
The government announced seafarers would get enhanced rights as key workers following a joint commitment made at an International Maritime Summit this month, hosted by the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Kelly Tolhurst the Shipping Minister, attended by representatives of more than a dozen countries including Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Philippines and the USA attended the summit.
They agreed to new international measures to open up foreign borders for seafarers and increase the number of commercial flights to expedite repatriation efforts.
LSC chief executive John Wilson said it was now of paramount importance to deliver on the agreement by opening up more channels to get seafarers home.
The charity has long raised awareness of the mental strain on those working on vessels due to long periods of isolation and extended time away from their families. The head of the Philippines maritime industry, Robert Empedrad, recently revealed “alarming reports of seafarers killing themselves aboard ships due to loneliness and depression”.
Mr Wilson said this showed the urgency in which nations now must act to get people home. He said from his experience the very sad and difficult subject of seafarer suicide is being talked about more openly by seafarers, where once it was a taboo subject. He said the coronavirus pandemic had brought the already acute issue of seafarer mental health into even sharper focus underlining just how important the summit recommendations are.
He said: “We welcome the move to class seafarers as key workers, which Liverpool Seafarers Centre has been campaigning for, and we are pleased those in the maritime industry are getting the assistance they so desperately need.
“However, we would appeal for that spotlight to continue to shine on the plight of the 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea as they are not home safe just yet and in many cases under enormous strain from very extended periods at sea some for more than 11 months working 10-12 hours a day seven days a week. We need more commercial flights to India and the Philippines, particularly, as chartered flights are expensive for the shipping companies tasked with getting their employees back home.
“We know that seafarers will be repatriated but, like with HS2, we do not have a timetable of when this will happen. To safeguard their mental health, seafarers need to know that this will happen in a month, for example, so that they have something to look forward to and an assurance that they have not been forgotten.
In conjunction with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and Seafarers UK, the Government also announced funding for a programme to support seafarers in UK shores with mobile internet routers – MiFi units – on board ships. This will pay for 50 MIFI units nationwide giving thousands of seafarers visiting the UK free internet access on board. The funding is worth around £3000 to LSC to run six MIFI units currently on a pilot scheme funded by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). The funding will extend LSC’s MIFI scheme for a further 12 months.
Notes to editors
- There are more than 1.2m seafarers at sea at any one time, according to UK Chamber of Shipping, Jun 17.
- International Maritime Organization figures estimate that as many as 300,000 seafarers each month will require international flights to enable crew changeovers. Additionally, around 70,000 cruise ship staff are currently waiting for repatriation.
- Most seafarers work a typical contract length of 11 months, but many have now been at sea for up to 15 months due to the pandemic, working on average 10-12 hours a day.
- Charitable organisation Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) says seafarers face isolation, sleep disruption, exhaustion. A recent survey revealed that 1/5 seafarers had thought of self-harm.
- HRAS reported an ‘unprecedented’ flow of pleas about non-payment of wages, contracts being renewed without consent, and crews being left in foreign ports without money or flights home. The organisation has formally called on governments to recognise seafarers as key workers.