Thursday, June 25, 2020

Crew Repatriation to Gripes About Flags of Convenience This is the International Day of the Seafarer

Event Used As a Soap Box for Everything Between Nationalism and Webinars to a New App
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – On this, the official 'International Day of the Seafarer' organisations across the world are putting their views and opinions regarding the value of those who sail the seas to keep the wheels of society oiled. Additionally not a few are also using the occasion to sound off with regard to their various causes.

In the UK the government has used the opportunity to announce it will, next month,host the first international summit on the impact of Covid-19 on crew changes bringing together the UN and political and business leaders from around the globe. Led by UK Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, the event will take place virtually and will be an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the global shipping industry, and what governments and industry must do to protect the welfare of crew workers around the world.

In a special address, the UN Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization Kitack Lim is expected to highlight the humanitarian need to safeguard workers across the seas and states’ duties to repatriate workers swiftly. Due to the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on countries around the globe, with many shutting down borders, it is now estimated there are more than 1.2 million seafarers at sea at any one time and currently 200,000 personnel due to change over, including up to 2,000 from the UK. Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst said:

“Seafarers have worked tirelessly during this pandemic to ensure people across the globe can access the essential food, medicine and supplies we all need, but thousands have been left with no way of coming ashore when faced with border restrictions. This Government has helped more than 7,000 crew get home back to their loved ones across the world, regardless of nationality or circumstance. I hope that this meeting will be a reminder of the international collaboration required by all states to bring people home.”

Many crews have had their contracts extended, but this is not a long-term solution, with many seafarers on board a ship for months despite having had no contact with coronavirus and posing no risk. To ensure their swift repatriation, and to safeguard workers’ mental health, the Maritime Minister wrote to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation at the start of the outbreak on 23 March pressing that all states follow the UK’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment.

The government says the UK has remained open for seafarers to come and either stay on vessels, go ashore, take shore leave or be repatriated, abiding by PHE requirements and social distancing. Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), said:

“We welcome the announcement to hold a virtual summit on this critical crew change issue. The fragile supply chain and global trade is now at threat of logjam due to government inaction and bureaucracy. Government leaders must cut through the bureaucracy, lift the continuing imposition of travel restrictions on these key workers and focus on this issue now.

”The solutions do not need money, they do not even need complicated negotiations, this is simple. The leadership provided by the UK to cut through this red tape is just the sort of initiative that is needed to free the thousands of seafarers who are trapped on board ships across the world.”

The forthcoming meeting, set up by the UK Maritime Minister, is a unique collaboration between the UK Government, UN through the IMO, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and key international trade associations to help all countries pull together to ensure that crew workers, regardless of nationality, are repatriated as swiftly as possible. In the UK, more than 7,000 cruise ship workers have been repatriated since the pandemic began.

Whilst everybody commenting today gives fulsome praise to the work undertaken by the people in the industry, some used the opportunity to reiterate their own agendas. Again in the UK the RMT Union has launched an appeal to increase UK Ratings’ jobs and restore power to national shipping registers as part of the International Maritime Organisation’s annual Day of the Seafarer. Senior Assistant General Secretary, Mick Lynch, said:

“On this year’s Day of the Seafarer, RMT pay tribute to the world’s seafarers, many of whom are being worked beyond the limits of international maritime law during the current pandemic. We also recognise that UK Ratings are ageing and only hold under 20% of all Ratings jobs in the UK shipping industry. The same story of ship owner exploitation of foreign crews is common across Europe as employment and pension rights and safety regulations have been slashed in a desperate bid to compete with Flags of Convenience.

“This unsustainable model and the weakness of international conventions intended to protect seafarers’ rights have been laid bare by the Covid-19 crisis. Major employers like P&O Ferries are seeking to dump seafarers in Dover and Hull and increase the use of foreign agency crew on six month contracts for a basic £4.50 per hour, yet our government just shrugs its shoulders.

“RMT calls on the government to make Day of the Seafarer mean something and announce plans to tackle seafarer exploitation on international shipping routes from UK ports before UK Ratings are consigned to the pages of history.”

A similar note rang out from the other side of the globe with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) saying the day highlighted the need to urgently turn around the decline of Australia’s merchant fleet, which it said has steadily shrunk under the current administration, leaving the country without the self-sufficiency a smart island nation needs.

The union said with very few ships flying the Australian red ensign, the nation’s supply chains have become increasingly precarious, with the overwhelming majority of ships servicing the nation now foreign owned, crewed and flagged. MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers' Federation president Paddy Crumlin, commented:

“Put simply, without seafarers, Australia’s economy and society would collapse almost overnight. Unfortunately, under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Governments we have seen the continued loss of Australian-flag vessels, leaving the nation in a dangerous position that could see fuel dry up within weeks if a crisis interrupts our supply chain.

“The Liberals and Nationals have driven a race to the bottom on the Australian coast, resulting in highly-skilled Australian seafarers being replaced by flag of convenience vessels registered in notorious tax havens and crewed by exploited foreign visa workers paid as little as A$2 per hour. The International Day of the Seafarer highlights the need for Australia to restore merchant shipping, with a strategic fleet of Australian-flagged vessels crewed by Australian workers that can ensure our sovereign self-sufficiency and the security for our nation’s fuel and supply capabilities.”

The World Shipping Council (WSC) also damns international politicians with faint praise saying, while much good work has been done at the international level to set guidelines, protocols, and standards to ensure crew changes can happen safely, these efforts are not enough. Global implementation requires new government policies at a national level by all governments participating in international maritime trade.

The WSC applauds those countries that have taken action and in so doing, have demonstrated to the world that crew changes can indeed take place safely. It urges all nations that have not yet acted to do so immediately and to use the IMO crew change protocols to adopt procedures that will allow crew to move safely across international borders as they join or leave ships. Moreover, it reminds all nations that seafarers are key workers and need to be designated as such with immediate effect.

For its part Maritime professionals’ union, Nautilus International, has today launched a new mobile ‘app’ to provide its members with instant access to Union advice and support following an incident at sea. The development of the app follows research from the Nautilus Federation, which revealed that 90% of seafarers are concerned about the prospect of criminalisation at work and two thirds said it has an impact on the way they feel about working in shipping.

The app, which was first shared with members for testing at the General Meeting in October last year and which can be downloaded at the Nautilus Website, has on and offline functions to support seafarers all over the world and ensure their fair treatment whilst at work and that the recruitment and retention of workers in the industry is not affected by the risk of criminalisation, regardless of their location and access to the internet.

Nautilus members will also be able to use the app to create an incident report and collate information about any events that occur whilst they are at work and out at sea. Through the app, Union members will also have access to advice on what they should do in case of emergency as well as contact details for local legal support if required.

The Union’s wider support network includes a 24/7 helpline, a worldwide network of lawyers and the JASON advice and assistance scheme (Nautilus Federation’s Joint Assistance & Support Network), run in partnership with Nautilus Federation unions. Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International, said:

“The maritime industry is truly unique, with seafarers facing challenges that the vast majority of workers in other industries do not have to consider. We are very proud of our app, which will serve as a friend in the pocket of seafarers, providing crucial support to our members, giving them instant access to advice following an incident at sea, as well as a means to contact the Union directly by completing an incident report.

“The development of the app and our wider fair treatment campaign came as a direct result of feedback from our members and having listened to seafarers throughout this process, we are confident that they can now feel more secure and less isolated whilst working at sea. Wherever you are, so are we.”