FONASBA is joining with the other members of the international maritime industry group on COVID-19, coordinated by the International Chamber of Shipping, in raising awareness of the plight of 400,000 seafarers who are currently unable to return home at the end of their contracts or join their ships. This situation has arisen as result of a lack of action by some national authorities in recognising the special status of seafarers, and their importance to the global supply chain, and so allowing them to travel without needing to obtain visas or comply with other immigration rules.
The importance of seafarers in maintaining supply lines is vital to ensure that the world is fed, kept warm and moving, and provided with essential supplies, has been the subject of statements by the International Maritime Organisation and others across the entire spectrum of the maritime sector. Significant efforts have been made by IMO, the International Air Transport Association, the maritime sector and airlines to work together and put in place procedures and protocls to allow the physical movement of seafarers whilst negotiating the significant problems arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some national authorities have worked closely with maritime organisations to allow crew changes to take place and they are to be commended for their efforts. The top 10 countries for crew changes identified in May by the International Chamber were: The Netherlands, Germany, China, the United States, Belgium, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Spain, Norway and the Republic of Korea. In total, crew changes were recorded as having taken place in 50 countries. Unfortunately, the refusal of other countries to roll back their normal procedures is placing lives, and the international supply chain, at significant risk.
Of the 200,000 seafarers still stranded on their ships, many will not have been home for 14 to 16 months, having already had their contracts extended as an immediate and necessary response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The same number are waiting to replace them. The nature of seafaring has always brought with it significant mental health risks but these have been significantly exacerbated by the current situation around repatriations and suicides amongst trapped seafarers have risen sharply.
FONASBA members worldwide are joining with their counterparts in the ship owning, crewing, port and related sectors to lobby immigration authorities to lift the restrictions on seafarer movements. In support, FONASBA and the other industry group members have issued a common statement that sets out the situation in clear and unequivocal terms. It is reproduced below but can also be downloaded as a .pdf here.
Rest assured that we will continue to lobby governments and their immigration authorities until free and unrestricted movement of seafarers can once again be undertaken.