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Crew change plea to mark UN Human Rights Day

Seafarers described fatigue and the temptation to leave the industry, as well as growing fears for their safety and that of their ships

The International Maritime Organization issued a plea for seafarers for UN Human Rights Day alongside a harrowing video of seafarers describing their experiences as the world locked down

THE International Maritime Organization and shipping groups issued another plea for seafarers to mark UN Human Rights Day.

The IMO urged governments to class seafarers as key workers to let crew changes happen and relieve the plight of 400,000 seafarers.

“This is a clear human rights issue,” secretary general Kitack Lim said in a statement. “This is causing immense strain, fatigue and exhaustion and is unsustainable.”

In a harrowing video Captain Hedi Marzougui told the IMO of the mounting fatigue and mental health cost of his months trapped at sea.

“When you’re on watch or when you are working you’re not really thinking about your work anymore — you’re thinking about all these other problems,” he said. “It’s very important in our job that you concentrate on what you’re doing because things can happen very fast in this industry. People can get hurt or worse very fast.”

Chief engineer Matt Forster said seafarers did not sign up to their “unjustified prison sentence”.

“It’s not that we’re heroes, we don’t want praise for that,” he said. “We just want to be able to go to work and come home again.”

Human Rights at Sea chief executive David Hammond said the coronavirus pandemic had stress-tested the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 in ways that were probably not envisaged when the document came into being.

Mr Hammond said the UN and labour groups were more aware of the plight of seafarers. But the industry had to recognise the concept of human rights at sea as important beyond the context of labour negotiations and business risk.

Doing so would pave the way to fix other problems such as piracy, slavery, abandonment, discrimination and bullying, he said.

The IMO also raised the plight of abandoned seafarers, with 65 abandonment cases this year compared with 40 in 2019. Only 18 of the new cases have been resolved so far.

The German Shipowners’ Association called for priority vaccinations for seafarers, and for states to enforce recent UN and International Labour Organisation resolutions to help crew changes.

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