Nautilus has raised concerns about the plight of cadets impacted by the crew change crisis as some members risk facing a second Christmas at sea unless action is taken to secure their repatriation.
One member, who cannot be named while their situation remains unresolved, joined their vessel as part of phase two of their training in December 2019 and remains stranded onboard. Covid restrictions have made crew change extremely difficult and measures have not been taken by the vessel owner to secure repatriation flights, with costs thought to be a key factor.
The issue was further complicated when a relief crew was eventually dispatched but had to return after a crew member tested positive for the virus en route. It remains unclear if and when further efforts will be made to relieve the vessel and its crew, including the British cadet onboard.
Nautilus strategic organiser Martyn Gray has been assisting the member, who is away at sea for the first time, and is becoming increasingly concerned about their wellbeing. He is calling for urgent action to resolve the crisis.
'There has been a failure of government leadership across the world, a failure of companies unable to do the right thing because of cost and other pressures, and a failure of training providers to take enough responsibility for cadets. Cadets are not critical to the safe crewing of the vessel and whilst their physical health has been cited as a key factor in preventing repatriation at times, absolutely no regard is being given towards the significant mental impact their continually extended seatime is having.'
Mr Gray stressed that this is far from an isolated case. While there has been a significant amount of coverage about the 400,000 seafarers worldwide (including approximately 2,000 UK seafarers) forced to remain on their vessels with vital crew changes unable to take place, there has been very limited focus of the impact on cadets.
'Some attitudes from training providers have been less than helpful, with responsibility being shuffled from sponsor to training provider and back again. It is becoming increasingly disappointing to see that the focus of some training providers is less on the welfare of their trainees and more on maintaining a profitable relationship with sponsoring companies.'
However, there have been multiple successes in supporting and assisting cadets to gain repatriation with the involvement of local MPs, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the International Transport Workers' Federation.
'There have been multiple occasions where our intervention, guidance and support has managed to enact a repatriation plan, where previously the cadets own requests were being ignored.'
Ultimately, there is a clear risk that the future pipeline of UK seafarers could be impacted due to the way that some of these issues have been handled.
Mr Gray has been dealing with a significant number of cadet members impacted by issues around repatriation and conditions on board as a result of Covid measures, as well as those who are unable to secure seatime.
'I have had cases of cadets confined to their cabins for weeks on end and at times unable to access food or provisions, despite taking multiple negative Covid tests, because of the way that regulations are being applied. These are young professionals being put in conditions that would not be acceptable in prison.
'Additionally, the issue of access to seatime is likely to become much more complicated the longer this situation continues. While colleges have been able to merge classroom phases where seatime cannot be secured for cadets, that can only be a short-term solution. As the pandemic continues, we could reach a position where cadets have finished phases one and three and are still not able to secure time at sea, so there is still a serious amount of work to be done.
'Ultimately, there is a clear risk that the future pipeline of UK seafarers could be impacted due to the way that some of these issues have been handled. We need to do everything possible to prevent that.'
Cadet members who would like to share their own anonymous story in relation to Covid seatime challenges, or seek union support for unresolved issues are encouraged to email Cadets@Nautilusint.org.