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Red tape continues to frustrate repatriation for thousands of seafarers, warns maritime charity

29 July 2020

Too much red tape in many of the countries that pledged to end the crew change crisis, may be making many of the estimated 300,000 stranded seafarers reluctant to attempt to return home, according to the Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC).

A coalition of 15 countries at a UK-led online International Maritime Summit on 9 July, attended by Nautilus, all pledged to aid in safe crew change measures to help avert a humanitarian crisis. However, according to the LSC, 13 of the coalition countries still do not have immigration, travel or health procedures that easily facilitate the transfer of crew members.

Information collated by ship managers and port agents revealed some countries had contradictory, confusing or complex guidance regarding crew changes, or did not permit them at all.

As part of the Union's efforts to alleviate the global crew change crisis, Nautilus International has launched a survey to gather further evidence on the issues members have experienced with crew change during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The LSC concerns mirror the Union's recent report which found that many governments have been hiding behind declarations of exceptional circumstances to avoid engaging with the crew change crisis.

But maritime law experts have stressed that the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is still very much in force, and some seafarers are illegally being denied their rights to relief and repatriation.

Nautilus director of legal Charles Boyle has said: 'If it is possible, however hard, to repatriate crew, then tough! You have to do it under the MLC. Governments signed up to these international conventions. Industry must comply with them.'

LSC Centre chief executive John Wilson, added: 'The response from the 13 countries that pledged to help seafarers return home has not been quick enough. We need well thought-out and managed procedures from all countries that have committed to open up their borders to allow seafarers to return home to prevent any more unnecessary hold-ups for those affected.'

Mr Wilson said many of the seafarers he has spoken to recently felt reluctant to go home even if the opportunity arose, because of the inconsistencies from country to country.

'This is not the answer because it leaves seafarers' mental health and wellbeing under considerable pressure due to the long working hours and sheer amount of time many have spent away from home,' said Mr Wilson. 'We urge those countries who attended the summit and made their pledge to go further in ensuring these key workers are not forgotten.'

LSC said Hong Kong had asked member companies at the Hong Kong Shipowners Association and the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association to postpone or reschedule crew changes in the Port of Hong Kong for at least three weeks, unless absolutely necessary for ship safety or on compassionate grounds.

Other measures in place in Hong Kong include requiring incoming seafarers to take a virus test within 48 hours prior to departing for the airport, and to take another virus test on their arrival at the airport.

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has repeatedly warned that if governments fail to act to bring in practical exceptions for seafarers, and support more humanitarian flights being available, then there are serious risks for the wellbeing of seafarers, for maritime safety, and for critical supply chains. It has said it would not hesitate to support exhausted crew if they felt the need to stop ships.


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