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ITF message to seafarers: 'we will not give up until you are all safely home'

12 May 2020

Seafarers have been honoured for their hard work and professionalism throughout the global pandemic by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

ITF Seafarers' Section chair David Heindel thanked seafarers for continuing to transport vital goods and keeping global trade moving during the Covid-19 pandemic. 'Without your sacrifice and the sacrifices of many other transport workers, the world would have been in a much worse state and likely would have come to a complete standstill.'

After weeks of intense lobbying by international unions, a 'roadmap' for governments to facilitate crew changes was agreed. This culminated in the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) 12-step plan on how to 'restart' crew changes so that seafarers can disembark, and fresh crews can be deployed.

This does not automatically mean that restrictions will be lifted immediately, however, since each government must put in place processes and procedures for crew changes to happen, but it is a step in the right direction, said Mr Heindel.

In March the ITF agreed a month-long extension to crew contracts through to April 16. This was mutually agreed to by seafarers' unions and companies that are signatories to ITF Agreements, but had come at a 'huge sacrifice for seafarers and their families' since it meant crew changes were halted, added Mr Heindel.

In late April, the ITF again agreed to extend contracts for another 30 days to allow discussions and consultation with industry and UN agencies on the development of protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus pandemic, and to continue to give governments the assurances that crew changes would not exacerbate the spread of the virus.

The maritime industry had requested another extension to crew contracts while governments operationalise the protocols, but Mr Heindel said the ITF and its affiliates strongly felt that another extension would be counterproductive, and agreed a 30-day implementation period of the protocols effective from May 15 through to June 15.

During this time the ITF expects governments to take concrete actions to facilitate crew changes. The ITF will review the implementation period on 1 June to ensure that efforts have not been in vain.

'For people who have not worked on a ship, it is hard to understand what it is like to live and work for six, eight or even 10 months on board. For seafarers it is a lifestyle, but when contracts end, seafarers are ready to go home and have an absolute right under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) to do so,' said Mr Heindel.

'The global community must take the collective responsibility and not only acknowledge seafarers as "key workers" but meaningfully demonstrate that their rights as enshrined in international and national legislation such as the ILO MLC are respected.

'If the worlds governments want to assure trade continues to flow uninterrupted, it is vital that seafarers are given the ability to change crews without delay.'

Read more:

The IMO document - Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic

For further information and guidance on COVID-19, please see the IMO's dedicated coronavirus pages

IMO – the International Maritime Organization – is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

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