Nautilus International and the Chamber of Shipping have urged UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to exempt seafarers from quarantine when returning to the UK from 'red list' countries.
The red list includes countries with outbreaks of new Covid-19 strains. People returning from these countries – mainly in South America and southern Africa – may soon have to quarantine in government-sanctioned hotels so that measures to combat the pandemic can be more strictly enforced.
In a joint letter, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson and UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti wrote: 'We are greatly concerned that the exemption from quarantine that seafarers and some other maritime workers enjoy is not to be applied to instances where seafarers return to the UK from countries in South America, southern Africa and others on the Government's "red list".
'Such a course of action takes no account of the fact that seafarers spend their time at sea, rather than mingling with the populations ashore.
'The only time they are ashore in these countries is when in transit between the seaport and the airport. It may be the case that seafarers are most at risk from contracting a variant when they are on the flight to the UK. Companies have hitherto found ways around this, such as arranging charter flights for their crews if and when necessary.'
The social partners said they were also concerned that seafarers might end up 'progressively losing the exemptions across the board. This will inevitably have consequences for ship operations and the effectiveness of supply chains, which will become more serious the further the restrictions are applied to seafarers. It would also undermine the Government's efforts to promote the health, safety and welfare of seafarers.'
While sensible precautions against new strains of Covid-19 entering the UK were understandable, it was 'difficult to overstate the importance of enabling seafarers to carry out their essential work' in bringing over 90% of visible inward trade into the UK, they said.
'We therefore request that you review the decision to suspend the seafarers' exemptions.'