Seafarer Welfare in Focus on World Maritime Day

Image courtesy of IMO
The IMO lit its headquarters building and its Seafarers Memorial in blue light to commemorate World Maritime Day (IMO)

Published Sep 30, 2021 11:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is calling on the shipping industry to prioritize the welfare of seafarers, who are at the core of the industry's future.

World Maritime Day is celebrated annually on September 30. As challenges with crew change and vaccination persist, the IMO has decided to focus on seafarers' welfare this year, celebrating the people who keep the wheels of the shipping industry rolling and propelling 90 percent of global trade.

With the theme of "Seafarers: at the core of shipping's future," the IMO seeks to increase the visibility of seafarers by drawing attention to the invaluable role they play now and will continue to play in the future.

"Shipping drives world trade and that trade simply does not happen without seafarers. While the challenges of automation and digitalization - not to mention decarbonization - will drive change in shipping, we will always need well-trained and motivated seafarers. We must ensure a diverse and expert workforce for the ships of the 21st century and beyond," said Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General.

He added that the 2021 theme was chosen as part of a year of action for seafarers, who are facing unprecedented hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic - particularly with access to travel, shore leave and vaccination.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on seafarers. Over the past year and a half, hundreds of thousands of men and women have been stranded on ships for months beyond their original contracts, unable to be repatriated due to travel restrictions. A similar number of seafarers are unable to join ships and earn a living. This crew change crisis, which has been ongoing for nearly a year, is a humanitarian emergency that threatens the safety of shipping.

The IMO and industry leaders have called on national governments to designate seafarers as "essential workers" in order to facilitate their movement and access to health care. "With the development of vaccines, there is a need for further cooperation and concerted efforts to facilitate the vaccination of seafarers," noted Lim.

The global body estimates that as of July this year, an estimated 250,000 seafarers remained on board commercial vessels, unable to be repatriated and past the expiry of their contracts. A similar number of seafarers urgently need to join ships to replace them.

In addition, abandonment of seafarers reached record levels in 2020 - a humanitarian crisis that remains a significant threat to global trade and safe navigation.

As part of this year's event, the IMO will launch a new annual initiative to unite the maritime community and raise awareness of the vital contribution of shipping to the world by bathing the IMO building in blue light. The Memorial to Seafarers, which was inaugurated 20 years ago in 2001, will be lit up at sunset, along with the IMO emblem on the building.

"New technologies for greener shipping" has been chosen as the World Maritime theme for 2022, reflecting the need to support a green transition of the maritime sector into a sustainable future.