Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Union Move Threatens to Bring Much Ocean Borne Global Trade to a Halt After Months of Frustration

Representatives Tired of International Government Inaction to Assist Crews Stranded by Covid-19
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – It seems after months of serious concerns the organisation which represents the rights of thousands of seafarers around the world has finally run out of patience at the inability of the shipping industry and governments to enable their members repatriation, after many crews have been stranded at sea by the regulations in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliated seafarers’ unions say they will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home. Frustration has been building for months and this new approach, which could be highly disruptive to global trade, comes after what is seen as insufficient action by governments to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’ and exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Over a month ago a coalition of all involved published a plan under the banner of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to assist governments allow the crews to go home. With little action since, this latest move is intended to facilitate that repatriation of around 200,000 seafarers who have been caught up in the crew change crisis, as ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair Dave Heindel explains:

“We are sending a very strong message to seafarers. You have selflessly extended and extended your contracts to do your part to keep critical supplies flowing around the world during this pandemic. Some seafarers have been on board for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family.”

ITF President and Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin reiterated the repeated warnings given to governments from unions and industry of this unfolding humanitarian crisis. The ITF can point to UN support after Secretary General António Guterres last week personally backed the call for governments to acknowledge that seafarers are indeed key staff. Paddy Crumlin explained his frustration:

“We have urged them on the consequences of tired, fatigued, depressed crew, to trade [and] to the environment. We have worked with industry and the international community to offer solutions. But enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home. No more contract extensions.”

As one might expect ITF staff are unanimous in the decision to pressure the international authorities who they accuse of ‘head in the sand’ tactics. ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton said all that governments need to do is make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions, and allow these key workers to transit through their territories and return to their families. A few small changes by national governments would allow seafarers to get home, and be relieved by a fresh crew, he continued:

“If a seafarers wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honour their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation,”

“If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt, then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers. Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough.”

Photo: Image courtesy of the ITF.