A plan to save 150,000 trapped seafarers has been put together by global maritime bodies and has been issued by the United Nations agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO). A population of 150,000 trapped people is about equivalent in size to the population of Cairns or Darwin. Some crews have already spent many months at sea and they urgently need to be repatriated.
“Shipping is vital to the maintenance of global supply chains, but the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and wellbeing of ship crew and the safe operation of maritime trade… service periods on board ships cannot be extended indefinitely due to the dangerous impacts this has for the well-being of ship crew and, most importantly, safe ship operations,” the IMO said.
The delayed return of seafarers is tough on their families, academic research shows. Seafarers themselves begin to suffer mental illness, such as depression, from being confined at sea. They also begin to suffer fatigue. Fatigued seafarers are at increased risk of making mistakes leading to personal injury. Fatigue, in particular, is also widely recognised as a contributing factor in marine casualties. No-one wants to see a marine casualty in which measures to control COVID-19 were a contributory factor. Governments, in all their forms and at every level, are urged by the IMO to permit seafarers to travel and to also permit the operation of all necessary services – such as flights and airport services – to enable crew changes.
The IMO has produced a 60-page set of very detailed protocols that governments and authorities in the maritime, health, customs, immigration, border control, seaport, civil aviation, and other sectors should implement to help facilitate safe crew changes. Australia has been culpable in helping to keep seafarers at sea.
However, there has been some welcome moves to ease restrictions on seafarer movements. On 9 April, the National Cabinet agreed to a uniform and consistent exemption from border restrictions for maritime crew. Australian state and territory alignment is proceeding at differing speeds. Queensland, Tasmania, and South Australia now appear to be fully aligned with the National Cabinet decision. The Northern Territory is moving toward alignment. But there has been little to no progress in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia.
“Supply chains must remain open so that everyday essential goods, foodstuffs and medical supplies continue to flow into countries worldwide. For this to occur, it is vital that crew changes can take place and that seafarers, subject to sensible and reasonable health controls, should be allowed to move between countries,” said Shipping Australia deputy chief executive officer Melwyn Noronha. Shipping Australia calls upon Australian governments and all relevant government authorities to adopt the IMO protocols and to help seafarers get to and from their ships.
Source: Shipping Australia Ltd.