Human Rights At Sea : Prisoners sea

London. UK. Since April, Human Rights at Sea has been put on notice of cases of seafarers stranded on board vessels, stuck in hotels, and in some cases without salaries been paid without having recourse to employer or union support.

Today, the charity issues an insight from one seafarer who approached the organisation for urgent assistance, and who remains stranded in a foreign State unable to get home while now relying on welfare handouts.

The issue of stranded seafarers continues globally and following the issuance on 5 May of a comprehensive 12-point step ‘roadmap’ developed by a supply chain coalition led by industry and unions in cooperation with UN agencies, according to the International Chamber of Shipping 150,000 crew will now require change over. This, however, is not happening on the scale needed to reflect legal requirements and maintain the previously well-established crew change system.

As the effect of COVID-19 lockdown measures varies internationally from State-to-State, for seafarers sailing across the globe, it stands to reason that they will experience and be subject to the vagaries of a current decentralised and disjointed policy approach to managing the effects of the virus.

It is perhaps too early, or too unrealistic, to expect any immediate global response to the 7 May 20 IMO endorsed 12-point plan to implement a unified system for crew changes that is immune from the whims of individual State decision-making. It is clear, however, that in order to limit the burden on seafarers and their families, harmonised processes and procedures need to be uniformly and urgently adopted by Governments throughout the world.

It has now been widely reported that seafarers are suffering a disproportionate level of iniquity as a result of the lockdown measures implemented by States. Whether they are unable to leave a vessel and return home, or, unable to join a vessel and left in a hotel room (sometimes at their own expense), depression, homesickness and the mental anguish brought on by the inherent uncertainty of the times is a very real and present welfare issue.

The UK Government has helpfully categorised seafarers as ‘critical workers’. Because their work is so vital, the Government wishes to ensure that seafarers are able to carry out their jobs with as few constraints as possible, which means, among others, being able to use necessary transport links. But not all States have adopted the same policy.

Travel restrictions imposed by Governments trying to contain the pandemic’s spread are clearly inhibiting crew changes, while the vital role shipping plays in ensuring that supply chains remain unaffected during these times has never been more apparent.

Nonetheless, the men and women on board these ships enabling the uninterrupted flow of essential goods are seemingly forgotten with countless States apparently not appreciating the practicalities associated with manning these vessels. Consequently, some have even gone so far as to state that they are ‘prisoners at seabeen put in place  

Press release 

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