IMO Cautions of Complacency as Number of Crew Stuck at Sea Declines

IMO crew change crisis and COVID challenges
Nearly 200,000 seafarers cotninue to wait for their reparation (IMO)

Published Mar 19, 2021 3:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

Marking one year since the declaration of the global pandemic, the IMO is highlighting that the crew change crisis caused by COVID-19 restrictions continues to create challenges, and despite some improvement, they warn that now is not the time for complacency. Seafarers are continuing to provide vital services working beyond the terms of their contacts. the IMO highlights, with the danger that they could still find themselves trapped at sea and while the issues around vaccine availability need to be resolved.

In a new public statement, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim seeks to highlight the progress that has been made in the crew crisis while also reminding nations that more has to be done to bring the crisis to an end. He also hopes to learn from the past year to prepare for the future.

“One year ago, as the world plunged into the COVID-19 crisis, I spoke of our voyage together and the need for collaboration and cooperation. I am glad to say that over these past 12 months, we have worked intensely with many different stakeholders to address challenging conditions,” writes Lim.

Thanks to concerted efforts by governments, shipowners, and others, the IMO says that the number of seafarers requiring repatriation after finishing their contracts has been cut in half in the past six months. They estimated that the number of seafarers caught at sea peaked in September 2020 at around 400,000. By March 2021, they report that it has declined to around 200,000, but cautioned that a similar number is still waiting to join ships.

“Now, more than ever, seafarers need to be designated as key workers to ensure priority vaccination and access to safe transit and travel,” Lim says in his statement. “Fewer than 60 countries so far have heeded our call for seafarers to be designated as key workers. More countries need to do so if we are to resolve this crisis and ensure seafarers are treated fairly and so that their travel to and from their place of work is properly facilitated. There is still a long way to go before we are back to a normal crew change regime.”

As the vaccination is rolled out in many countries, the IMO is urging governments to prioritize seafarers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs. Governments should also identify and prepare for the challenges of the vaccination of seafarers who spend long periods away from their home countries. 

Lim personally thanked seafarers for their hard work and perseverance in the past year and says the IMO along with its sister UN agencies will continue to work with industry bodies and governments to address the ongoing needs of seafarers.