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Seafarers must be exempt from travel bans, say ICS and ITF

The coronavirus pandemic has left crew around the world in a precarious position. National travel bans threaten their access to ports and global industry bodies are stepping in to ask for protection

National travel bans threaten crew access to ports and global industry bodies are stepping in to ask for protection. The move comes as the IMO calls for a ‘practical and pragmatic approach’ to crew changeovers 

THE WORLD’S biggest shipowner and seafarer bodies are calling for seafarers to be exempt from national travel bans, while the head of the International Maritime Organization has called for pragmatism in dealing with crew changeovers.

The International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have sent a joint letter to the heads of United Nations agencies stressing the importance of seafarers in the circulation of global trade and the integrity of supply chains.

“In particular, this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible,” the two organisations said.

The letter was sent to the heads of the IMO, the International Labor Organisation, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the World Health Organization.

Certain European Union countries are imposing national travel bans, while the EU will introduce a 30-day ban for travel to the EU for non-EU nationals. Meanwhile, regions elsewhere have set their own restrictions; ships and crews coming into Queensland, Australia face new prohibitions.

European industry bodies asked for similar help from the EU and its governments on Wednesday.

At the same time several large shipping companies, including Maersk, have suspended crew changes because of the coronavirus.

The ITF and ICS said that 100,000 seafarers must change over every month to comply with rules and regulations.

“We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning,” they said.

Regardless of their nationality, seafarers should be treated as any other international “key workers”, such as airline crew and medical personnel, they said.

“As such, they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships,” ITF and ICS added.

Meanwhile, IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim released a video statement on the situation that he will be initiating meetings with leaders from shipping, ports and other sectors to help find solutions.

“Defeating the virus must be the first priority, but global trade, in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner must be able to continue, too,” said Mr Lim.

Seafarers are at the frontline of the current “global calamity” and their health is as important as anyone else’s according to Mr Lim.

“Again, I urge a practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers,” he said.

The IMO has postponed scheduled meetings through the end of March.

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