October 1st 2020

World governments must mount a unified response to the breakdown in the crew change process that has left hundreds of thousands of mariners stranded aboard their ships in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, MM&P Captain Hedi Marzougui told participants in a Sept. 24 United Nations event aimed at raising awareness of the crisis now unfolding on the world’s oceans.

“Not knowing when or if we will be returning home brings a severe mental toll on my crew and myself,” Marzougui said.

“I would encourage each and every one of you to think of how you would feel if you had to work every day, for 12 hours, with no weekends, without seeing your loved ones, and trapped at sea.”

“Now add that you have to do that with no idea of when you will be repatriated.”

The remarks were made during the presentation he was invited to give during a High-Level Side Event to the September meetings of the United Nations.

The other panelists at the meeting, entitled “Covid-19 and Maritime Crew Changes: A humanitarian, safety and economic crisis,” included:

— International Transport Workers’ Federation General Secretary Stephen Cotton;

— International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Kitack Lim;

— International Labor Organization Director General Guy Rider;

— leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations; and

— transport and maritime ministers from Canada, France, Kenya, Panama and the Philippines.

All urged governments to designate seafarers as essential workers and immediately implement measures to ensure safe crew change and Covid-safe transit.

Marzougui described the toll the crisis is taking on the men and women who crew the world’s ships.

“When the pandemic broke out, life on board became difficult almost immediately,” he said.

“Crew changes, shore leaves, and medical leaves were suspended or became very difficult to perform.”

“We received very limited information and it became increasingly difficult to get vital supplies and technical support. Port nations changed regulations on a daily, if not hourly basis.”

“Severe strains began to show amongst my crew almost immediately.”

“We felt we were being treated as second class citizens, with no input or control over our lives.”

Some seafarers have now been at sea for 17 months without a break, said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, well beyond the 11-month limit established under the Maritime Labor Convention.

Besides the 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea, another 400,000 are unable to join vessels.

“Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue to operate ships,” said Lim, himself a former seafarer.

“Action is needed–and is needed now,” he said.

“We all depend on seafarers. They should not be the collateral victims in this pandemic. Seafarers deliver for us–and now we need to deliver for them.”

“When the ships stop,” said Unilever’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Marc Engel, “so does everything else. We are now close to an entirely avoidable breaking point which could ripple out through the economy. Even a temporary interruption could push companies and countries over the edge.”

“We might be a hidden workforce, out of the mainstream’s attention, but make no mistakes about it, we are critical to the global economy,” Marzougui said.

“Our job is one of endurance and we treat it like a marathon for the length of our contract.”

“What do you think would happen to a marathon runner, if when crossing the finish line, they were told that they needed to do it again, immediately, and without rest?”

“The fact that I was invited to speak here today proves that we are not alone in our plight.”

“It shows that some organizations and people care about us and are fighting for us. For that I am thankful.”

“However, the fact that I am here speaking to you today also proves that this crisis is far from over.”

To view a recording of the event: