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ILO decries plight of seafarers stuck on ships

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More than a month after the International Labor Organization issued warnings about the plight of seafarers refused permission to leave their ships, limited progress has been achieved and the situation is worsening by the day, ILO said.

Governments called to act without delay

Tens of thousands of cruise ship crew are among the 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world because of measures to control the spread of COVID-19. The ILO has urged governments, immigration, health and maritime authorities to work together to recognize seafarers as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic.

Referring to the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, the ILO called on governments to adopt without delay all possible measures to facilitate crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, while taking steps to minimize the risk of contagion.

'Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable. This jeopardizes their health and endangers maritime safety. Action is needed now to ensure decent work for seafarers, avoid maritime accidents and environmental disasters, We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety,' said Guy Ryder, ILO director-general.

Lost income

Meanwhile, the restrictions on crew changes, brought in by countries to reduce the spread of COVID-19, have meant that seafarers waiting to return to sea have lost their income.

The call for key worker status for seafarers was underlined in a joint statement issued on May 22 by the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Maritime Organization and the ILO. This would exempt crew from travel restrictions and facilitate their joining or leaving ships.

The International Chamber of Shipping, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation called attention to the urgency of the situation in a letter to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres on May 21.

Just last week the European Community Shipowners' Association, European Transport Workers' Federation, Cruise Lines International Association and World Shipping Council implored European Union ministers of home affairs and transport to admit seafarers into the EU Schengen territory to join ships or be repatriated.