COVID-19: Stranded Seafarers ‘Must Get Christmas Leave’

The UK must push other countries to ensure that ship crew stranded because of Covid restrictions get home leave this Christmas, a union has said.

It is estimated that 400,000 seafarers, up to 2,000 of them from the UK, are currently stuck on vessels.

The Nautilus International union wants crew to be classified as key workers in all countries, making it easier to fly them home for time with loved ones.

The government promised to keep making the case for this internationally.

Many of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers are working past the end of their contracts, unable to be relieved because of quarantine and travel rules, and a lack of flights.

Some have been on duty for 17 months without a prolonged break.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) estimates 400,000 seafarers are stuck on board cruise ships, transporters, tankers and other vessels, and the UK Chamber of Shipping says up to 2,000 of them are from the UK.

The UK government designated seafarers as key workers when the first coronavirus lockdown began in March. Forty-three other maritime countries have done the same – but 130 have not.

“This is an international crisis which requires an international response,” said Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson. “All governments need to designate seafarers as key workers and allow them to transit borders and relieve crew.

“Our members work hard to supply food, medicines – and presents – to UK households,” added Mr Dickinson. “They often do so without much acknowledgement or public recognition.

“This year, the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to unprecedented levels of stress, fatigue and safety concerns due to countries closing their borders and preventing them from seeing loved ones.”

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said the UK government had “led the way” but been “let down by other governments across the world”.

In July, the UK hosted the International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes, after which it and 12 other countries called for seafarers of all nationalities to be classed as key workers.

They also recommended greater co-operation between governments on health, immigration and other issues to facilitate crew changes.

ICS secretary-general Guy Platten said the UK could “not afford to rest on its laurels”, adding: “The 44 countries who have given seafarers the recognition they deserve have a duty to lobby fellow member states to do the same.”

Mr Platten also urged international cooperation to ensure crew have early access to coronavirus vaccines, so that shipping “continues to function in 2021 and beyond”.

Maritime Minister Robert Courts said: “The government has already worked to repatriate over 20,000 crew members from around the world and will continue to work with domestic and international partners to help bring more seafarers home to their loved ones.”

Source: BBC