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Calls grow for UN investigation of seafarer rights violations during Covid

7 May 2021

Seafarers' representatives and shipowners have asked the United Nations to establish an interagency task force to examine the implementation and practical application of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The call for a UN investigation came in a resolution adopted at the 4th session of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Special Tripartite Committee (STC) of the Maritime Labour Convention, held virtually between 19-23 April 2021.

­­Many violations of the MLC, which lays out a minimum-acceptable level of rights and standards for seafarers, have been reported during the past year.

At the peak of the crisis, more than 400,000 crew were trapped onboard their ships, often denied shore leave, medical care, and to cease work and travel home after their contracts ended. Some 200,000 seafarers still believed to be stuck onboard as variants of the virus emerge and countries shut their borders to travel.

Mark Dickinson, Nautilus International general secretary and seafarers spokesperson at the ILO, said: 'The governance and structure of the industry was brutally exposed during the pandemic. The industry is fragmented despite the requirements of the UN Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and this massively contributed to the chaos. The major flag states are paper tigers – zero visibility, zero ability, zero interest in the welfare of their crews.

'The 97 governments who have ratified the MLC have a duty to make sure crew can get home at the end of their contracts. It's there in black and white. There are no get-out clauses or special conditions. Governments that failed to ensure seafarers are repatriated or prevented crew from getting home, denied them medical care ashore, and that failed to cooperate internationally to guarantee seafarers their rights are in clear breach of the MLC and thus their international obligations.'

The STC meeting recommended extra cooperation between nations to help end the crew change crisis.

In addition, the meeting passed a resolution stating that seafarers should be given rapid access to Covid vaccines and suggested a number of ways to ensure that they can be vaccinated, including the establishment of specialist hubs in major ports.

'Many seafarers have lost their jobs because of the pandemic and as a consequence of the way governments are handling the crisis many more are reconsidering their choice of career,' Mr Dickinson added. 'That's had an impact on the shipping business with some companies unable to continue operating owing to crew shortages. That's affecting the whole world economy. Governments must act urgently to prevent the situation becoming even worse.'


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