ITF Takes Flag States to Task Over Coronavirus Response

The Bahamian-flagged cruise ship Braemar prepares to disembark in Cuba, March 18. Two individuals aboard Braemar tested positive for COVID-19 and her flag state refused her request to enter a port of refuge (Alexander Pellicer Moraga)

Published Mar 18, 2020 3:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a statement released Wednesday, the International Transport Workers' Federation took two flag states to task for alleged failures "to protect seafarers’ and passenger’s health during this humanitarian crisis."

The cruise ships Diamond Princess, Grand Princess, Braemar, Silver Shadow and Silver Explorer have all experienced port exclusion and quarantine measures after cases of COVID-19 broke out on board. In the case of the Bahamian-flagged Braemar, the flag state refused access to a port within its own territory. Braemar was forced to search for an alternative; after diplomatic entreaties to multiple port states, Cuba gave her permission to dock at Mariel, and she is unloading passengers today. 

Countless other vessels - like the Roald Amundsen, which happens to be carrying a complement of 100 doctors from a group conference on board - have been left stranded due to port state border closures. 

“Attention needs to be called on the failure of the governments of Bermuda and the Bahamas in the cases of the Grand Princess and the Braemar for not accepting their responsibility to remedy the problem for its sovereign vessels,” said Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section. “Flag states have sovereignty over their vessels, but for the coronavirus-affected cruise ships responsibility has fallen on the port states, national governments of the passengers and crew or even a third country. For instance, the Braemar was refused to dock in its own territory, with the vessel sent to Cuba after the government authorised the offloading of passengers and crew."

The ITF and its member unions called on open-registry flag states to take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of all workers and passengers onboard their vessels - especially seafarers, who live and work onboard for many months at a time.

“Protecting the health of transport workers is our first priority. The ITF will continue to advocate for the health and safety of crews on ships, port workers, along with passengers, and that they are protected from any potential risks of COVID-19 as well as ensuring that flags states are adhering to their duty of care to their health and safety,” said Heindel.