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ITF criticises flag states for failing to protect health during coronavirus

2 April 2020

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has criticised flag states for failing to protect seafarer and passenger health during the coronavirus pandemic, as cruiseships are repeatedly refused permission to dock and disembark passengers amid precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus.

'Attention needs to be called on the failure of governments for not accepting their responsibility to remedy problems for its sovereign vessels,' ITF seafarers' section chair Dave Heindel said. 'If the world continues to accept the Flag of Convenience (FoC) system in its current form, it should be pointed out for its failures.

'There has been little or no mention of the responsibility and duty of care of flag state governments to assist seafarers employed on these vessels,' Mr Heindel said.

The 1993-built, Bahamas-flagged, Fred Olsen Cruise Line cruiseship Braemar was denied entry by several Caribbean ports after reporting several cases of coronavirus among its 682 passengers, mainly from the UK, and 381 crew members.

The Braemar was even refused to dock in the Bahamas, its flag state to which it had changed course.

It then spent days searching for somewhere to dock, with the vessel sailing to Cuba after the government authorised passengers and crew to disembark at the port of Mariel following a request from the UK government.

Three British Airways planes chartered by Fred. Olsen flew out with passengers showing no symptoms while the remaining symptomatic passengers boarded an FCO chartered flight back to the MoD's Boscombe Down airfield. According to Public Health England, all those taking this flight were required to self-isolate for 14 days once they returned home.

Under international law, the onus for the health and safety of the crew and passengers – and for the wider public that could be impacted – is on the flag state governments that have sovereignty over their vessels, Mr Heindel said.

'But for the coronavirus-affected cruise ships responsibility has fallen on the port states, national governments of the passengers and crew or even a third country. The world should be concerned about the lack of policies and inability of flag states to react and enact measures in line with their responsibility to protect workers and tackle the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.'

Nautilus members who are concerned or are experiencing difficulties related to the coronavirus outbreak are advised to contact their industrial organiser for assistance. In an emergency members can also contact the Nautilus 24/7 helpline.

More Nautilus assistance and our coronavirus resource hub can be found on our Assistance page.


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