The crews of merchant ships still stranded at sea in the midst of a pandemic
Swansea, WALES – More than 15 months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands of seafarers vital to the global shipping industry remain stranded at sea or in ports, unable to leave their ships or d ” access new assignments due to worldwide travel restrictions.
Friday was International Seafarers’ Day, and ships around the world, from Los Angeles to Singapore to Antwerp, Belgium, were planning to draw horns in solidarity.
“They have been the forgotten heroes of this pandemic and they have truly been collateral damage because it was so easy for countries to say that we are not taking anyone to our country except, of course, that they wanted the ships enter. and simply unload their cargo, ”said Guy Platten, head of the International Chamber of Shipping.
It’s been a problem since the start of the pandemic, but Kasper Søgaard of the Global Maritime Forum said the situation had worsened recently, largely due to new travel restrictions countries have imposed in response to the variant. coronavirus delta, which was first identified in India.
The forum found that the percentage of stranded sailors rose from 5.8% to 7.4% from May to June, figures which continue to rise, Søgaard said.
More than 80% of world trade is transported by sea, which means that seafarers play a vital role in world trade. The International Chamber of Shipping estimates that 200,000 people are affected by travel restrictions, either stranded at sea or unable to leave their homes to join their ships.
Some have been stranded for 20 months, which contravenes the International Labor Organization’s maritime labor convention, which allows a maximum of 11 months.
Daresh Villarayan from Punnaikayal in Tamil Nadu, India spent a month on MT Peterpaul while stranded in Sri Lanka. He also had to be quarantined several times. He recorded a video of himself and his teammates talking about their predicament from the ship, which is now back on the move.
“Because of the crown there are a lot of problems in the life of a sailor,” he said.
Hermant Solanki, another Indian crew member from Surat, Gujarat, has been unable to find work for eight months. He tried to join a ship in Egypt, but had to spend a month in a hotel before finally making his way to MT Peterpaul.
The chamber says Indian sailors are the most affected as they are the ones with the most travel restrictions.
About 900,000 crew members come from countries that do not produce vaccines, which means their movements may be even more limited if they cannot get the vaccine.
Beyond the horns, there has been a global push to better protect the rights of seafarers. In January, more than 700 organizations and businesses, from the World Economic Forum to BP and Shell, signed the Neptune Declaration on well-being of sailors and change of crew. A call to action was to declare seafarers as essential workers. Sixty countries have done so so far.
The chamber says 12 countries have prioritized the vaccination of merchant crews, while ports in the United States, Belgium and the Netherlands vaccinate all arriving crews, regardless of nationality.
Even as the pandemic raged, some 400,000 sailors kept the industry going, Platten said.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the sailors, because not once in the past 15 months have they stopped sailing the ships, delivering the essentials… fuel, food, medical supplies. and all the other essentials that keep the world going, ”he said.
Bzganovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia.