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'Enough is enough': Union backs stranded seafarers' right to leave ships

Jun 17, 2020 10:16 AM

200,000 seafarers have been caught up in the crew change crisis during the pandemic

The following is text of a news release from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF):

(LONDON) — The International Transport Workers’ Federation and its affiliated seafarers’ unions will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.

The new approach, which could be highly disruptive to global trade, comes after insufficient action by governments to designate seafarers as "key workers," exempt them from COVID-19 travel restrictions and facilitate repatriation of around 200,000 seafarers who have been caught up in the crew change crisis, said ITF Seafarers’ Section Chairman Dave Heindel.

“We are sending a very strong message to seafarers: you have selflessly extended and extended your contracts to do your part to keep critical supplies flowing around the world during this pandemic,” he said. “Some seafarers have been on board for more than a year, and over the course of this pandemic many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore even for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons.' This situation is intolerable to the ITF family.”

ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chairman Paddy Crumlin reiterated the repeated warnings given to governments from unions and industry of this unfolding humanitarian crisis.

“We have urged them on the consequences of tired, fatigued, depressed crew – to trade, to the environment," Crumlin said. "We have worked with industry and the international community to offer solutions. But enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home. No more contract extensions.”

ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton said all that governments need to do is make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions, and allow these key workers to transit through their territories and return to their families. A few small changes by national governments would allow seafarers to get home and be relieved by a fresh crew, he said.

“If a seafarer wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honor their obligations under the Maritime Labor Convention to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation,” Cotton said.

“If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers," he said. “Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough."

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