There’s a growing swell of voices for certain countries to ease travel restrictions to allow global trade to continue.

The shipping companies want it, charities and advocacy groups want it, and industry associations want it, and the IMO has called for more be done to enable it. And ships crews definitely want to see it happen.

There is now huge concern around the maritime and shipping industry about the inability for ships crews to be relieved and repatriated because of the global pandemic lockdown.

It is a growing problem given the number of crew members that are relieved every month – suggestions of up to 100,000 officers and crew members travel to or from ships in any given normal month, a figure which has been reduced to possibly hundreds.

As well as posing a risk for global trade should crews become unable to sail, the issue is having a growing impact on welfare and morale according to charities that have launched various funding campaigns to help repatriate some crews that have been relived but are stranded in ports.

Talking in the latest episode of the Aronnax podcast, David Hammond, head of the Human Rights at Sea advocacy charity says the problem remains critical with crews, mostly Indian but others as well, being left stranded at ports and worried about the situation in their home country.

While ports are being encouraged to allow crew exchanges, and some have said they are, they are also being urged by the IMO to remain open to allow global trade to continue flowing.

Many countries with lean supply chains and a lack of stockpiling or national resources rely on their imports and exports for many things from food and fuel, spare parts and even medial equipment. These countries need ports and airports to remain open.

The IMO held its latest Council meeting by correspondence rather than live, the first time in its entire history.

As well as calling for more seafarer support it also urged countries to ensure the smooth operation of maritime traffic and availability of shipping services for world commerce, for the benefit of humanity; .

Sick crew

While the issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic are serious, there is also growing concern about ships crew that may fall seriously ill onboard ship, even from non-Covid-19 related ailments. In urging its member countries to ensure the welfare of seafarers, the IMO also points to the need to preserve their rights to wages, sick leave, access to medical assistance, food supplies, as well as to have the means for vessels to undergo repairs and surveys

The issue of sick crew is huge and being ignored said Dorothea Ioannou Chief Commercial Officer from the American P&I Club during a recent webinar streamed by It’s All About Shipping.

She pointed out that the P&I clubs took on the issue of stranded seafarers under the Maritime Labour Convention, and that the industry is doing its best for seafarers during these difficult times.

“We have a ship right now that has been abandoned, and we pay the salaries of seafarer, and it is on the condition that the seafarers are being repatriated, but under this case they are not being repatriated, they can not be repatriated – they are stranded so we need to take a different approach and make part payments to help families.”

Anna Vourgos director at Aphentrica Marine Insurance in Cyprus and president WISTA Cyprus was also on the same webinar stream organised by “It’s all about Shipping”, she pointed also to the problems of seafarers that are injured or sick, either with or without Covid-19 symptoms.

“The emphasis has to be on crew members  at sea or in ports that are injured or a different illness and need immediate assistance but do not have the luxury of time to go through the Covid-19 restrictions, she said. “We are struggling with this, it’s where we need assistance”.

And as Vourgos points out, at the end of the day all of this comes to who is going to pick up the bill.

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