April 23rd 2020

The International Transport Workers’ Federation is calling on the United Nations, governments and airlines to ensure that crew changes take place so the world’s mariners can keep supply lines open in the face of the global pandemic.

Transport workers are vital to successfully responding to the challenge of Covid-19.

Mariners play an especially important role since about 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea.

Tightening lockdowns have disrupted supply chains, especially for the maritime industry which—as the ITF notes–relies on the free movement of crews to keep ships moving.

Ships must be allowed to change out overworked and exhausted crews to keep trade flowing, even as coronavirus lockdowns shut many transit points across the globe and flights are suspended.

MM&P salutes and fully supports the efforts of the ITF to facilitate international crew changes and repatriate merchant seamen, a growing number of whom include MM&P members and other US mariners employed aboard commercial as well as government contract vessels that are in service outside US waters.

In a letter to the Group of 20 major economies, the ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping said there are 1.2 million mariners at sea at any given moment, with 100,000 crew members needing to be rotated each month.

They called for cooperation between UN agencies, governments and airlines to enable the changeover of ships’ crews.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said the federation and the ICS have grave concerns for the tens of thousands of crewmembers whose duty on board ships has ended, but who are forced to remain at sea for additional months.

“The current deadlock not only threatens seafarers’ personal health and wellbeing, but also increases the risk of marine accidents,” Cotton said.

“The issue of crew changes has the potential to become a massive problem for the global economy if governments do not address our concerns,” said ICS Secretary General Guy Platten.

“National lock downs, travel bans and port restrictions are making this crew change more difficult.”

In March, G20 energy ministers made a commitment to ensure continued operation of logistics networks that form the backbone of global supply chains, without undermining efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented: it is reshaping the world economy in a way that has never been seen before.

At the center of it are transport workers, who are keeping the world moving and linking supply chains, despite the crisis.

“Public transport workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, aviation workers, dockers, seafarers and more will continue to work during this crisis,” the ITF said in a statement.

“It is essential that they are protected and supported to take the measures necessary to help control the spread of the virus.”

As a resource for the thousands of seafarers hit by the crisis, the ITF has created a map, based on data provided by its network of around 140 inspectors, showing the effects of Covid-19 restrictions on countries and ports around the globe: