Leaders at maritime summit agree to speed repatriation of seafarers
New measures will open borders and increase flights for COVID-stranded mariners
The following is text of a news release from government of the United Kingdom:
(LONDON) — Seafarers will get enhanced rights as key workers following a joint commitment made at today’s International Maritime Summit.
Representatives from over a dozen countries including Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Philippines and the United States attended the summit. They agreed to new international measures to open up foreign borders for seafarers and increase the number of commercial flights to expedite repatriation efforts.
Despite the crucial role they play, restrictions on international travel have left thousands of seafarers stranded at foreign ports, with some confined to vessels for months despite having no contact with coronavirus.
The summit, hosted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst, brought together members of the United Nations with political and business leaders from across the globe. The difficulties maritime crews face across the world was at the center of the discussions, while all governments and parties were urged to resolve the issues with maritime transport to support workers and the industry more widely.
Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, also gave a special address.
“It is time to act for seafarers," Lim said. "Safe ship operations and crew well-being 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.“
To ensure their swift repatriation, the U.K.'s maritime minister wrote to the International Maritime Organization, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization at the start of the outbreak on March 23, pressing that all states follow the U.K.’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment.
"Throughout this pandemic, seafarers have played a crucial, though sometimes unseen, role in keeping vital supplies flowing into the country," Shapps said. "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. 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."
Shapps said the agreement builds on the U.K. government’s longstanding work to bring home the British maritime workers waiting for repatriation and help seafarers in U.K. ports return home. The summit follows the successful repatriation of 12,000 seafarers from U.K. shores throughout the pandemic.
"I am deeply concerned about how the global crisis has affected crew changes across maritime transport," Tolhurst said. "I called today’s summit to turn the tide on the struggles seafarers have faced during this crisis, and through today’s commitment we will speed up repatriation for crews globally."
Tolhurst said that in conjunction with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and Seafarers U.K., the government has also announced a program to support seafarers in U.K. shores with mobile internet routers – MiFi units – on board ships where hundreds of seafarers are still waiting to return home. This will give hundreds of seafarers free internet access on board.
Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization Kitack Lim 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.“
To ensure their swift repatriation, the Maritime Minister wrote to the International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization at the start of the outbreak on 23 March pressing that all states follow the UK’s work in repatriating workers regardless of their nationality or employment.
“Globally there are now over 200,000 seafarers who are stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts," said Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping. "These forgotten heroes of global trade work 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to make sure those of us on land have the food, medicine and fuel we need during this difficult time.
“This summit is a welcome show of political leadership at a time when seafarers across the world need it most. Governments must now use this summit as a catalyst to implement with the solutions the shipping industry has provided, applying the political will needed to put them into practice. This issue doesn’t require money and did not need complicated negotiations. This summit is a catalyst for action.”