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Source: US Global Legal Monitor

(Sept. 30, 2020) On September 11, 2020, a number of United Nations (UN) agencies issued a joint statement asking all UN member countries to take urgent measures in order to allow crew changes of seafarers’ crews aboard shipping and fishing vessels notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement explains that such changes are long overdue, as seafarers have not been able to conduct regular crew changes for months due to travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. As a result, more than 300,000 seafarers cannot travel back to their countries of origin, have had their contracts extended beyond the 11-month limit (sometimes for up to 17 months), and are facing fatigue, as well as mental and physical health issues. An equal number of out-of-work seafarers onshore cannot work because they cannot board ships.

These conditions are in violation of applicable international conventions, particularly the Maritime Labour Convention, which guarantees seafarer rights such as the maximum period of service on board ships (11 months), shore and annual leave, repatriation, and access to medical care both onboard and onshore.

The statement includes a number of measures that governments are urgently requested to take to address these issues, including

  • designating seafarers as “key workers” providing an essential service, to facilitate safe and unhindered embarkation and disembarkation from their ships;
  • undertaking national consultations involving all relevant ministries, agencies and departments, to identify obstacles to crew changes, and establish and implement measurable, time-bound plans to increase the rate of such crew changes;
  • implementing protocols for crew changes, drawing upon pertinent protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic;
  • refraining from authorizing new extension of seafarers’ employment agreements beyond the maximum period of 11 months, in accordance with the Maritime Labor Convention, and
  • facilitating the diversion of ships from their normal trading routes to ports where crew changes are permitted.

The statement was signed by the Director-General of the International Labor Organization, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, among other international organizations.