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ICS Urges Governments to Stop Denying Seafarers Urgent Medical Care

denial of medical access on shore for crew
(USCG file photo)

Published Mar 3, 2022 8:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

More than two years after the pandemic began, the International Chamber of Shipping says that too often countries and governments are still denying seafarers’ urgent medical care. An outspoken advocate for seafarers and the industry on issues of maritime affairs, the ICS says far too frequently governments have relied on broad-ranging force majeure defenses to deny seafarers medical treatment.

“Governments have been too slow to recognize seafarers as key workers, harming both their health and the health of global supply chains,” contends Kiran Khosla, the ICS’s Principal Legal Director. “Two years after the pandemic began, governments have no excuse for hiding behind force majeure.”

The ICS cites a recent report from the UN’s International Labor Organization’s Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labor Convention. The report cites the “existence of cases of denial of access to medical care ashore for seafarers, even in situations of the utmost urgency.” Among the situations the ICS points to are reports of seafarers with broken limbs being asked to remain on board and take painkillers, a chief engineer vomiting blood not allowed to disembark, and even the body of a ship’s master who being refused repatriation.

“Citing force majeure, governments have bypassed fundamental standards on seafarer wellbeing, such as those contained in the Maritime Labor Convention,” said the ICS. “However, the ILO found that given that almost two years had passed since the beginning of the pandemic, ‘…force majeure should not be regarded as a valid reason to deprive seafarers of their rights’,” they highlight from the UN report.

The ILO’s committee also indicated that denying seafarers medical treatment could further increase pressure on stretched global supply chains. It noted that “…the crew change situation remains critical and appears to be deteriorating, which jeopardizes the safe and uninterrupted delivery of vital supplies.”

ICS is urging governments around the world to designate and treat seafarers as key workers, provide access to medical care ashore when needed, and prioritize seafarers for Covid-19 vaccinations. ICS also released its latest round of medical guidance for ship operators and shipping companies, covering seafarer health and wellbeing, and vaccination best practices. The guidance provides updated information on embarking and disembarking seafarers following relevant COVID-19 regulations and new advice on the repatriation of deceased seafarers.