The maritime industry may be a step closer to solving the crew changeover crisis after 12 countries at the International Maritime Summit agreed to open borders for seafarers and increase repatriation flights.
The countries signing the agreement at the summit in London were the UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines.
The agreement aims to help up to 250,000 seafarers who have been unable to go ashore due to travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus.
In some cases seafarers have been stuck at sea for 18 months, far beyond the limit allowed under international law.
A.P. Moeller-Maersk (Maersk) called upon national governments to solve the crisis through “constructive dialogue” in June 2020, and it has since been joined the World Economic Forum, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and most recently by the European Community Shipbuilders’ Association (ECSA).
By mid-June 2020 the situation has become so severe that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said it would support any seafarers that went on strike in protest at not being able to changeover.
The summit’s chair UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP said seafarers had played a “crucial” role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and ensured the smooth flow of essential supplies.
“It is unacceptable that there remain thousands of people stranded at ports around the world and we owe it to them and their families to change things” Shapps said.
“Today marks a new chapter for seafarers and, alongside our international partners, we are taking a stand to end the bureaucracy preventing men and women around the world from returning home.”
Secretary-General of the IMO, Kitack Lim, also spoke at the summit and said: “It is time to act for seafarers. Safe ship operations and crew wellbeing should not be compromised.
“The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us, for the world economy and for the safety of life at sea and the environment.”