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An Oxfordshire resident with two Nautilus members in her family has written to her MP to press for action on crew relief and repatriation. Sarah Robinson talks to her about her concerns
Kate Nicholls, whose husband and father are both ships' officers, told Nautilus that she was dismayed by the UK government's poor understanding of the work seafarers do – work that is keeping the country going during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
'They keep talking about the frontline of the supermarkets and the warehouses, but they don't realise that shipping facilitates everything else,' she said. 'They need to think ahead. If they don't take care of the seafarers now, there's going to be a problem a few weeks down the line with the goods not arriving to stock the warehouses.'
Mrs Nicholls's husband and father have found themselves in situations typical of seafarers around the world during the pandemic.
Her father is in lockdown on a ship berthed in the US port of San Diego, unable to go ashore because there are cases of Covid-19 coronavirus onboard. If he is at some point allowed off his vessel, it is uncertain if he will be able to go home, due to a shortage of repatriation flights and a lack of understanding that seafarers are key workers who need to travel to and from their vessels.
Her husband is currently at home with his young family on a leave period, and was due to join his vessel in Southampton in June. However, he will have to go onboard two weeks early and spend the next fortnight in quarantine in his cabin before he can start work, unless more tests become available to establish whether or not seafarers have Covid-19 before they board.
Mrs Nicholls was motivated to write to her local MP Robert Courts after realising that nothing was being said about shipping in the UK government's daily briefings. 'This is no criticism of my husband's or father's employers, who have been doing their best to do the right thing in the circumstances. I also want to thank everyone at Nautilus for all the support they're giving and providing information you can't get elsewhere. But the government just isn't getting the message, and seems to be working blind.'
There has been more talk of keeping airports and flights going for freight than there has about shipping, she pointed out, which is concerning because it shows how little understanding there is that almost all goods arrive by sea.
'The Merchant Navy has always stepped up in a crisis,' she stressed, 'and an acknowledgement would be nice. Maritime families willingly do our bit by sending our seafarers away, and many of them will be staying away for longer than usual at the moment. It's our nature to be quiet and not moan, but we need the government to remember us and plan ahead.'
The government needs to think ahead and remember us. If they don't take care of the seafarers now, there's going to be a problem
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.