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Swift action is needed to back up summit declaration

The crew change summit produced a surfeit of ‘deeply concerned’, ‘requires concerted action’, ‘encourage’, ‘consider’, ‘engage in discussions’, ‘review’, ‘possibility of allowing exemptions’, ‘explore’, ‘urge’. What it did not produce was a single commitment to concrete steps

Industry leaders are anxious to resolve the crew change scandal as rapidly as possible, but continuing governmental inertia is maintaining the logjam

TIME was when the very words ‘summit meeting’ conjured up a mental picture of stretch Limousines despatched to the airport to whisk global leaders to a suitably luxurious country hotel for days of deliberation culminating in a formal banquet showcasing the best food and wine the host nation has to offer.

But in these coronavirus-straitened times, a two-hour Zoom call must pass muster instead, as was the case with the International Maritime Virtual Summit on Crew Changes.

UK shipping minister Kelly Tolhurst and her civil servants deserve immense credit for organising the event.

That the initiative originated in London rather than Panama City or Monrovia underlines a real truth. The UK continues to punch above its weight in the shipping industry, even in the absence of actual shipowners.

Naturally, no top-level summit is worthy of the name unless it concludes a ministerial declaration, and this one was no exception.

Lloyd’s List entirely welcomes explicit recognition — on the part of no less than 13 governments — of both shipping’s pivotal role in the global economy, and the need to do something about the crew change crisis. All of this, we repeat, was well said.

But as avid students of rhetoric will be aware, ministerial declarations don’t tend to read as well as the Gettysburg Address or the Kennedy inaugural. The tone tends to be couched in the language of caution.

What we got was a surfeit of ‘deeply concerned’, ‘requires concerted action’, ‘encourage’, ‘consider’, ‘engage in discussions’, ‘review’, ‘possibility of allowing exemptions’, ‘explore’, ‘urge’.

What we did not get was a single commitment to concrete measures.

And governments do need to take concrete measures. As Lloyd’s List reported, industry leaders are anxious to resolve this scandal as rapidly as possible. It is not lack of will on their part, but continuing governmental inertia, that maintains the logjam, however inadvertently.

Britain has rightly accorded seafarers keyworker status from the onset of the pandemic, and imposed no obstacles to their repatriation. But few of the world’s seafarers are British.

The onus is now on the governments of port states, flag states and labour supply countries to do what is necessary. Exemptions from unduly onerous restrictions, and the provision of non-commercial flights where necessary, should be top of the to-do list.

We still cannot help feeling that if even a few hundred airline pilots and cabin crew had been treated the way hundreds of thousands of seafarers are being treated right now, we would have witnessed a rather greater degree of alacrity.

When the Maritime Labour Convention entered into force in 2013, it was widely heralded as ‘the seafarers’ bill of rights’. This is its first systemic test; let us ensure that seafarers get the same human rights consideration as everybody else.

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