ILO: Treat Seafarers with “Dignity and Respect”

Credit: ILO

Published Apr 1, 2020 6:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seafarers should be treated as “key workers” and be exempted from travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, say the Officers of a special International Labour Organization (ILO) tripartite maritime committee representing seafarers, shipowners and governments.

A joint statement  issued by the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006)  also called on ILO member States to do all that they can to facilitate the delivery of essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions to ships.

This follows reports that in some parts of the world suppliers have been prevented from boarding ships to give masks, overalls and other personal protective equipment to crews. Some ports have also refused to allow some ships to enter because they had previously docked in areas affected by COVID-19, preventing vessels from obtaining essential supplies.

“Seafarers are just as worthy as everyone else and should be treated with dignity and respect to ensure that they can continue to provide their vital services to the world,” the statement said.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, has asked governments to ensure that, in these challenging times, seafarers are adequately protected from the COVID-19 pandemic, have access to medical care, and can travel to and from their ships, as necessary, in order to continue to play their crucial role.

Seafarers’ rights are set out in the ILO’s MLC, 2006, which establishes minimum requirements for almost all aspects of working conditions for seafarers, including conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, repatriation, shore leave, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.

The Convention has now been ratified by 96 ILO member States, representing more than 91 percent of the world‘s merchant shipping fleet.

IMO Circular Letter 

The IMO has also urged for keyworker exemptions for crew changes and repatriations. A Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6 provides a preliminary list of recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Circular Letter specifically calls on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as “key workers” providing an essential service.

Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.

The circular letter reiterates earlier calls made by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, who said it was "crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted." He took the opportunity to repeat his own statement that seafarers are "on the front line of this global calamity" and that the situation needs a "practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers."

In the Circular Letter, Lim referred to the outcome of the G20 Leaders' Summit on COVID-19 on March 26 in which the G20 leaders committed to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

The leaders pledged to work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people.