The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have urged governments to ensure uninterrupted crew changes and keep all ports open for calls by commercial vessels amid the coronavirus crisis.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold it is vital that all governments keep maritime trade moving by continuing to allow commercial ships access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the movement and rapid changeover of ships’ crews,” ICS and ITF said in a joint open letter sent to United Nations agencies.
The letter was addressed to chiefs of the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and World Health Organization (WHO).
“As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, it is important for the world’s governments to fully understand that around 90% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping…In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving,” ICS and ITF pointed out.
“In particular, this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.”
As explained, about 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from the ships which they operate in order to comply with relevant international maritime regulations. To keep the global maritime supply chains functional, there is a vital need for all merchant seafarers to get appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions when leaving or joining their vessels, according to the two organizations.
“In view of their vital role during the global pandemic, we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international ‘key workers’, such as airline crew and medical personnel,” ICS and ITF continued.
“As such, they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships.”
“We therefore call on your organisations to highlight the critical importance of this issue with the governments of your member states,” the two organizations further said in their joint open letter.
“We request, as a matter of urgency, that this topic be added to the agenda of appropriate high level meetings, and that national authorities in your organisations’ member states should be encouraged to engage immediately with their national shipowners’ association and national seafarers’ union, in order to find rapid solutions to this serious problem which otherwise risks impeding global efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
ICS represents the world’s national shipowners’ associations and over 80% of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage, while ITF speaks on behalf of approximately two million seafarers who operate the world’s internationally-trading commercial ships.