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Detain ships to stop humanitarian crisis at sea say Unions

23 September 2020

An influential group of unions has called for ships to be detained in ports if seafarers have been onboard longer than international treaties allow.

Marking World Maritime Day on 24 September, the Nautilus Federation of 22 maritime unions said seafarers are being denied their human rights during the pandemic with as many as 300,000 stuck at sea beyond the agreed 11-month maximum service.

The failure of governments, industry and flag states to name seafarers as keyworkers and get them off ships and home to loved ones has led to a humanitarian crisis that can no longer be tolerated, the Federation said in a joint statement.  

'This is a wholly predicted – yet avoidable – humanitarian crisis, and we call for action against governments who deny seafarers their fundamental rights,' Nautilus Federation director Mark Dickinson said.

'Maritime and shipping professionals, at sea and on inland waterways, have had enough. We will continue to push for an international solution, together as Nautilus Federation affiliates and as affiliates of the International Transport Workers Federation, so that the key workers of the world's seas and rivers are able to get to and from their vessels without delay.

'Should that international solution cause Port States to detain growing numbers of vessels until seafarers are repatriated, the industry and governments will need to prepare for the disruption this would cause to global supply chains.'

The unions draw attention to the inability for some of the world's largest flags to enforce the fundamental rights of seafarers during the Covid-19 pandemic. While many of these Flags of Convenience (FOCs) quickly ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), the 'ease and speed by which many flag states subsequently ignored the rights of seafarers is a stain on the entire maritime industry,' the Federation union said.

'The major Flag States have the ability to resolve the crew change crisis by refusing to allow seafarers on their ships to be denied their fundamental human rights,' the unions said.

'We call on all Port States to assist the Flag States by enforcing the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and detain ships that do not comply. Similar actions must also be taken for those people working onboard vessels sailing on inland waterways, many of whom are facing the same denial of human rights.'


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