Many seafarers have extended their contracts by several months to keep food, fuel and medicine flowing around the world during the pandemic, depending on the destination of companies and unions. But the months at sea without a break take their toll on the crews. Fatigue and mental illness is a growing security threat and many seafarers now want out of their ships.
The International Transport Workers Federation, which represents about half of the world’s seafarers, said the urgency of contract extensions expired on Tuesday and the organization will now do everything it can to help the crew exercising their legal rights to stop working and go home. If a sufficient number of highly skilled seafarers take action, the move could cause the collapse of world trade to come to a standstill, according to the Federation, surly supply chains.
About 80% of trade in goods by volume is carried on ships, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The pandemic has thrown the shipping industry into chaos. Access to ports has been limited and aircraft grounded, making it impossible to move workers from one part of the world to another and to exchange crews.
Shipping companies and unions have agreed to halt crew changes in March to minimize cargo disruption. But it was supposed to be a short-term solution.
Maersk ((, the world’s largest container shipping company, said 35% of the 6,600 sailors currently at sea were “stranded” on board more than their contractual agreement. “Many of our seafarers serve well above their normal contract length and still have no line of sight on when they can return home, fatigue and mental health issues are increasing,” technical officer Chief, Palle Laursen, wrote in an email to CNN Business. )
“For safety, regulatory and humanitarian reasons, crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely,” Laursen added.
Richard Barnes, the captain of a chemical tanker, said that he is fortunate to work for a “very good” European transport company, but that the conditions and the atmosphere on board the ships vary, and people can suffer from loneliness if they don’t feel they can talk to their captain or crew. “If you are not on a good ship, I think it is very easy to slip into depression,” he told CNN Business.
Barnes, who was a 43-year-old sailor, had to extend the four-month lag by six months because he was unable to obtain shore leave in the United States. He recently returned to the UK via Rotterdam, but said it is much more difficult for seafarers living in China, Vietnam and the Philippines to get home. “I have never seen anything like this,” he added.
“We really need to get the plans,” said Steve Coton, secretary general of the Transport Workers International Federation. Cotton said he couldn’t predict how many crew members would be ships or just stop working, but added that the Federation had responded to “hundreds” of calls and social media, messages from seafarers this week seeking advice.
“Seafarers need us to take a strong stand to urge governments to act,” he told CNN Business.
Bypass travel restrictions
According to the Federation, governments have ignored the “escalation of the crew in the crisis of change” by taking insufficient action to designate seafarers as the key to workers and the exemption from Covid-19 restrictions of travel.
Some ports do not allow teams to disembark, or enforce a 14-day quarantine, making staff movements impossible. An even bigger problem is that there are no operating flights to transport the crew of the house or bring in replacements.
Frank Coles, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Wallem, a group for the company’s shipping services, describes the Federation’s latest action as “a call to stop global shipping. He said it was caused by governments’ failure to address the “humanitarian crisis” in the industry. Governments have been more interested in making vacationers at home to remember who “supplies the world,” he added.
The shipping industry protocols published in May, approved by the International Maritime Organization, to ensure that crew safety changes could take place during the pandemic. But governments have been slow to implement these.
“The fact that we are three months down the line and we have 400,000 seafarers in need of a shift is absolutely not viable,” said Guy Peigne, secretary general of the International Chamber. of Shipping.
Some 1.2 million seafarers aboard ships at any given time, with around 200,000 currently stranded, and another 200,000 unable to reach ships for routine changes, the Chamber said. China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia and Ukraine are the largest suppliers of seafarers.
“We are not even asking governments to come up with a plan – we have already done it. We are simply asking them to adopt. It is a matter of political will, “Comb told CNN Business. He said the Dutch government has worked with KLM aircraft to move the crew between Amsterdam and Manila, showing that it can be done.
The House called on governments to waive all crew visa restrictions to ensure the flow of world trade. “The UK, Germany and Canada have shown that it is possible, but others should do the same because it is a global problem,” Le Comb said.
Under the Maritime Labor Convention, a seafarer is allowed to spend 11 months at sea, but some have been under sail for more than 15 months due to the pandemic, said Jim Buteur, secretary general of the International Federation of Association Captains, which represents ship captains. “It’s dangerous,” he told CNN of Business. Ship captains cannot be held criminally responsible if accidents occur on board due to fatigue or equipment malfunction, he said.
“We need the authorities to engage with us in a constructive dialogue in order to facilitate crew changes in the current context of critical circumstances, ensure minimum risk for crews and their families as well as the continuation of the ‘worldwide supply,’ said Maersk is Laursen.
– Angus Watson and Ivan Watson contributed to this report.