COVID-19 has affected many sectors worldwide, for some sectors a full halt has been necessary to contain the crisis, however for frontline workers is not possible because they are essential for day-to-day operations to provide countries with food, oil, medicines and FMCG.
The Maritime sector hasn’t been any different, the frontline workers must stay safe and keep working, as a result some challenges arise from this pandemic and in this blog, we would like to offer an overview of the reaction the IMO has had to the COVID-19 crisis.
IMO has intervened promptly by urging its Member States to designate seafarers as key workers, so they can travel between the ships that constitute their workplace, and their countries of residence.
According to the IMO, seafarers have been collateral victims of the crisis, as travel restrictions have left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. IMO has established a Seafarer Crisis Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) to help them out of a variety of critical situations.
IMO is committed to support seafarers since the personnel is considered as front-line workers, and the COVID19 crisis had led to a growing humanitarian crisis as well as significant concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping.
According to the IMO there are recommendations to Member States about measures to facilitate ship crew changes in seaports:
“Governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to:
• Designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality when in their jurisdiction, as “key workers” providing an essential service.
• Grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships.
• Accept, inter alia, official seafarers’ identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer as evidence of being a professional seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes.
• Permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.
• Implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.
• Provide information to ships and crews on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice.”
Among other supporting efforts the IMO share their concern about helping seafarers go home, because of the crisis many seafarers have been longer periods offshore especially having no end date in sight and this can be quite frustrating for seafarers. As a result, the IMO intervened and confirmed to take the necessary measures to facilitate crew change while the ship was in its port and the seafarer was able to go home and be reunited with his family.
In addition to this, immigration authorities in different countries have denied permission to travel without notice, resulting in the seafarers stuck on the ship at anchor with no means of returning home.
IMO’s response to this unfortunate situation was to contact the port State and seafarer State and inform the relevant NGOs to resolve these types of cases, which thanks to cooperation between the local seafarer’s union and the port State resolved the problem.
Many people’s mental health has also been affected by this crisis; in the case of seafarers, they have also described serious impacts on their mental health as they spend longer periods without seeing their families. Furthermore, the increasing risk to get sick onboard and demand immediate health assistance which in some cases is not possible. Because of inability to receive appropriate health care for the seafarer on board.
In many cases for personnel arriving sick into a country that will put them in quarantine before they are able to see a doctor. The IMO’s response to this is to establish that as long as the seafarer COVID-19 test is negative they have the right to be taken to a hospital for the surgery or medical assistance needed.
Finally, ensuring a safe working environment is one of the main goals during this pandemic, since it is normal that the crew on board fears of infection since there are considerable risks on board.
Therefore, it is important to decrease these risks, particularly during cargo operation and relocate the ship to a different anchorage to fully and safely discharge the ship.
Several sectors in the economy and workforce are undeniably affected by the pandemic. The actions must be taken and solutions to certain problems must be directly and timely addressed. This to ensure the safety of frontline workers. Not only maintaining operations running smoothly is important, but also preserve the mental and physical health of each worker and minimize the risks of infections on board.
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Opinions expressed in the blog are only for informational and/or entertainment purposes. Opinions expressed cannot be seen as legitimate or official advice.